QUEANBEYAN Tigers general manager Ron Fowlie says the club’s immediate future in the North East Australian Football League is assured.
But he admits the Tigers’ longer-term NEAFL participation remains uncertain as the AFL continues its drive to turn the competition into a genuine second tier league on par with the Victorian Football League.
Last week saw the AFL announce a number of planned changes to the NEAFL over the next two years. The most notable of those will see the competition cut from 19 teams to possibly as few as 14.
The proposed changes would also see the current, two-conference system replaced by a single league composed of the remaining Northern and Eastern Conference sides.
The bulk of the team cuts will come from the Northern Conference which could lose up to four teams.
Eastern Conference outfit the Tuggeranong Hawks have already announced their withdrawal from next year’s competition.
In the wake of Tuggeranong’s exit, AFL officials reassured NEAFL club representatives earlier this month there were no plans to further reduce numbers among the existing Eastern Conference sides.
But Fowlie said the AFL’s commitment to an increased level of professionalism within the NEAFL system was placing an ever-increasing level of financial strain on clubs.
“The AFL is determined to make sure the NEAFL is a second tier competition and they’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen,” Fowlie said.
“We’re pleased to still be included going forward but certainly down the track it’s going to take a lot of work and commitment in order to remain in the competition.
“It does put the club under enormous pressure. [We’ll discuss] within the organization about how we can maintain our presence in the NEAFL.
“But it’s very important over the next two months for us to maintain our credibility [on the field] as well or you can drop away pretty quickly.”
The NEAFL, which was established in 2011, currently consists of teams from the Northern Territory, Queensland, NSW and the ACT.
Queanbeyan has so far proved one of the competition’s most successful sides, taking out the Eastern Conference premiership last season.
Fowlie said the Tigers ongoing commitment to the NEAFL would depend on what financial expectations were placed on the club.
NEAFL Eastern Conference manager Andrew Knott acknowledged clubs would face a greater burden moving forward under the proposed changes.
“We want to work with clubs to make sure we’re increasing their level of professionalism,” Knott said. “That’s in terms of having better football departments and more human resources. How that is financed is the difficult part.
“As the competition does become more professional, it does put a greater financial strain on clubs…and we want to help make sure clubs are viable going forward.
“But we can’t forget the [NEAFL] competition is only three years old and it has already taken enormous steps. To put undue pressure on the competition [at this stage] would be unfair.”