By Nick Creely
The AFL has announced that the premier under 18 competition in the nation, the NAB League, will get a late August start in a reduced capacity, however the Dandenong Stingrays are not at this stage expected to take the field.
Victorian draft prospects in country regions not impacted by the current lockdowns imposed on metropolitan Melbourne will get a chance to strut their stuff in front of AFL recruiters with a return on 22 August locked in, however, despite the Stingrays – who are based out of Shepley Oval in Dandenong – forming part of the Country conference, the club will not feature with the lockdown in place until at least Wednesday, 19 August.
It leaves fellow local NAB League club the Gippsland Power, the Bendigo Pioneers, the Murray Bushrangers, the Geelong Falcons, and the Greater Western Victoria Rebels to battle it out as part of the Country conference.
While the AFL remains optimistic that the Metro clubs – the Calder Cannons, Eastern Ranges, Northern Knights, Oakleigh Chargers, Sandringham Dragons and Western Jets – can get some sort of season in later in the year, the league is desperate to get the regions unaffected by the current restrictions back on to the field in a big boost for next year’s draft.
The AFL has also announced that regional players undertaking schooling or board in Melbourne will be unable to play for their country-based NAB League side as per advice from the Victorian state government.
AFL head of talent and state league competitions Tristan Salter said in a statement that despite the current Covid-19 situation impacting on talent pathway programs in Victoria, the AFL is committed to getting boys and girls back playing in a safe envrionment.
“All levels of the game across the country have been impacted by the health pandemic this year,” Salter said.
“Throughout this season we have anchored every decision in-line with the advice of the respective government and relevant medical authorities. Our return to play plans and our timings is evidence of that.
“The evolving situation across Victoria has meant we have had to make decisions based on geographical locations of players and clubs to ensure we give as many players the opportunity to play NAB League games this year.
“While we would prefer to provide a standard season of NAB League football for girls and boys across the entire state, this outcome ensures an opportunity for many players to continue their journey in the talent pathway.“
Salter also said that they will continue to work hard to ensure those in the Melbourne and Mitchell Shire regions – which includes the Dandenong Stingrays, despite it being a Country side – can get back on the field at some stage this season.
“We maintain our commitment to all players that we will continue explore arrangements including return-to-training and competition in consultation with the Victorian State Government for players located in Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire,“ he said.
The NAB League girls season will also recommence on Saturday 5 September, with a further three matches for each side to complete a six-game season after three rounds were able to be squeezed in prior to the season shutdown. At this stage, there has been no announcement as to whether the Dandenong Stingrays’ girls side will be able to compete.