Rivers to ride Ablett success wave
THE Northern Rivers is perfectly placed to ride on the Gary Ablett-led, Gold Coast Suns’ AFL bandwagon, according to two prominent Aussie Rules followers based in our region.
Ablett yesterday confirmed he would join the fledgling Gold Coast franchise and will become the highest-paid player in the AFL if his rumoured five-year, $9.5 million contract proves true.
The 2009 Brownlow Medallist is the kind of marquee player the Suns were always hoping to sign and should definitely put bums on seats when the club enters the competition next year.
For a group of supporters under the banner of Northern Rivers AFL, the Suns’ entry to the competition and signing of the ‘son of God’ (Ablett), is indeed a godsend.
Not only will it allow AFL fans to watch the game live only an hour or so north at Carrara, it potentially has several spin-offs for the Northern Rivers region.
There’s the possibility of the Suns conducting coaching clinics and playing NAB Cup practice matches here and this could lead to improvements in infrastructure, such as Lismore’s Oakes Oval, and the new sporting complex at Ewingsdale near Byron Bay.
Paul Waters, manager of Byron Bay’s Balcony restaurant and vice-president of Byron United, also sees business opportunities.
“With the Suns based at Carrara, there is a huge opportunity for Byron Bay to capitalise on the AFL tourism dollar,” he said.
“Byron Bay gets its fair share of groups coming in and staying for a week and part of their accommodation package could be a bus up to see the footy. I can see huge spin-offs from being a part of the AFL juggernaut.”
Waters is a relatively new AFL convert after his daughter Lauren married AFL star Chris Tarrant last year.
But for his fellow Northern Rivers AFL committee member and criminal lawyer John Weller, Aussie Rules, and more particularly Collingwood, is in his blood.
“Ablett’s signing is absolutely the major coup within Australian Rules football. He’s a role model, he’s super talented and no matter what team you barrack for he’s an absolute treat to watch,” he said.
“The Suns are going to be quite a strong AFL team in the national competition within three years and that’s a huge benefit.
“They are keen to extend their nest to include the Northern NSW area and what that means for the younger players is that they get clinics and face-to-face contact with some of the best players in Australia.
“For kids that want to pursue AFL, the Suns will be a nice stepping stone put in place for them.”