Grafton player Hugh O’Toole is one of many to join the Tiger revolution in recent seasons.
Grafton player Hugh O’Toole is one of many to join the Tiger revolution in recent seasons.

Grafton's Aussie Rules explosion

GENERALLY people from the northern states refer to Australian football as ‘aerial ping-pong’ or ‘cross-country basketball’.

People from the southern states however, refer to Australian football as ‘the greatest game on earth’ – and Grafton is starting to catch on to the idea of taking up the sport.

In the battle of the codes, Australian football is becoming increasingly popular and in recent years has enjoyed a rapid growth in the traditional rugby league strongholds of NSW and Queensland.

The Brisbane Lions have established a foothold in the sunshine state while Sydney’s Swans will soon have the Western Sydney franchise to contend with for pulling power through the gates.

The Grafton Tigers AFL Club is set to take advantage of the code’s expansion into previously unchartered territory – including the Northern Rivers.

With the introduction of a Gold Coast side to the AFL in 2011, the Tigers are hoping to attract more juniors to the game.

At present each of the senior North Coast Australian Football League’s teams average more than 100 members each season.

Full time development staff have also seen the number of players aged four to 16 competing rise dramatically from 47 in 1998 to more than 400 in recent campaigns.

Tigers president Chris Schaeffer says the club, in an attempt to bolster their playing personnel and cash in on the code’s rise, is looking to field under-11s, 13s and 15s sides in their respective divisions this season.

November’s annual Auskick clinic has also been instrumental in signing a host of young stars.

“We will have a first grade and reserve grade team and hopefully an under-18s,” he said.

“The club had a good year last season and we hope to be stronger this year.

“Having more junior sides will benefit the club in the future.

“We had between 60-90 kids take part in Auskick last year over a six-week period.

“The AFL body of NSW and the ACT have a blanket media coverage to promote juniors which has been positive.”

Schaeffer says having three junior teams will involve more work for the club to get it up and running and is calling for parents who wish to be involved with the junior committee to contact the club.

“We talked to the guys in Coffs ( Harbour) about our plans and they said what we are trying to achieve normally takes 12 months, we’re trying to do it in six months.”

Asked about Australian football competing with other codes in the area, Schaeffer says he is confident the Tigers and the North Coast competition will continue to prosper.

“There is still a lot of local interest to play AFL. It has been hard over the years with Grafton being more of a league and soccer town,” he said.

“AFL is a fantastic game. We have a great club which focuses on mateship and having a good time on and off the field.”

For Schaeffer, being involved in Australian football and the Grafton Tigers was by chance.

“I wandered down to Ellem Oval six years ago and there was a game of Aussie rules,” he said.

“Next thing I caught the bug and have been hooked ever since.

“Any players wishing to have a crack turn up at training on February 2... it doesn’t matter if you haven’t played before, everyone is welcome.”

Junior training begins at 5pm before the seniors take to the park at 6pm.

Any person interested in playing for the Tigers or being involved with the junior committee contact Chris on 0417433361 or Simone on 0434011062.

Tiger den

Formed – approx. 1982

Teams – under-11s, under-13s, under-15s, under-18s, reserve grade, first grade

Competition – North Coast Australian Football League

Training – starts February 2

Contact – Chris on 0417433361 or Simone on 0434011062

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