Suns' eye on Ballina

THE Gold Coast Suns AFL football club are keen to set up shop on the Northern Rivers should the region be able to provide professional facilities.

Pending upgrades to Fripp Oval in Ballina are key to getting the AFL's 17th franchise training and playing practice matches against other AFL teams on the Northern Rivers.

The Suns, which enters the AFL next year, intended to bring their squad to Ballina for pre-season matches this year but the ground failed to meet the requirements set out by the AFL.

Gold Coast CEO Travis Auld hopes that the Fripp Oval facility is upgraded in time for the 2011 pre-season.

“We certainly would like to get down there for some practice matches and possibly even some NAB Cup (pre-season competition) matches in February next year,” Auld said.

“We always intended to do so but it all depends on the grounds meeting the requirements set out by the AFL.”

Of concern to the AFL are the lights – AFL standards are for 100 lux lights – and the changerooms at Fripp Oval. .

Local Summerland AFL club, Ballina Bombers, which has Fripp Oval as its training and playing base, and the Ballina Shire Council are in the process of raising the funds to install 200 lux lights on four poles at a cost of around $210,000.

The partnership has already secured $120,000 towards the lights and BSC manager for open spaces and reserves, Jillian Pratten, has tabled an application for a community building partnership grant for the remainder.

“We want to encourage the growth of Aussie rules in the region and the arrival of the Gold Coast Suns has spurred us on,” Pratten said.

“We want to become the epicentre for Aussie rules in the region.”

And the Suns, it appears, are keen to help achieve that goal.

The new franchise's talent zone extends into the Northern Rivers and Auld said his organisation is keen to tap into it – evidenced when the club held it's first community camp here in February.

“The Northern Rivers is full of talent,” Auld said.

“Having the area in our talent pool allows us to identify young talent and provide a pathway to the AFL.

“It also gives us the ability to go into the region and build a fan base and connect with the community.”

But before the Suns take, Auld says, they are prepared to give.

“Our home ground – Carrara Stadium – is within driving range for the Northern Rivers and we hope to have plenty of fans on board when we get underway,” he said.

“But we are keen to get amongst the area and win some support – earn some support in the interim.”

Auld said that the Suns are keen to set up a talent academy satellite hub on the Northern Rivers, but that depends on getting the approval from the AFL, which in turn depends upon Fripp Oval receiving the upgrades.

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