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Football Australia boss James Johnson concedes he was “taken by surprise” when the NRL‘s Cronulla Sharks were revealed as part of a joint bid to join a new national second-tier competition.
The NRL club has joined up with Sutherland Sharks FC as one of 32 domestic clubs wanting to join the new competition, which is set to start in 2024 and could one day include promotion to the A-League.
The Sharks were part of the failed Southern Expansion bid to join the A-League that was overlooked for Macarthur FC but are now on the cusp of joining what could be a 10-16 team competition with the financial backing of the NRL club.
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“It was one name that brought a smile to my face when I saw it – it caught me off guard, actually,” Johnson said on Tuesday.
“I’m pretty excited, and I think we should be welcoming this.
“It’s a region that is huge in terms of our participation numbers. Rugby league plays in a rectangular facility, which is good for us, because that’s what creates energy and excitement in a game, if you get the right stadium.
“They’ve obviously got financial backing behind them, and they’ve partnered with one of our biggest associations, so I think that’s actually an exciting combination that we’d like to explore. The door definitely is open to them.”
Johnson said racist behaviour, including Nazi salutes, from Sydney United 58 fans remained a “relative factor” in their pursuit of a place in the competition.
The club was hit with fines and fans were banned by FA following its appearance in last October’s Australia Cup final.
“We wanted to make this process open to as many clubs as possible,” Johnson said.
“The door was never closed for Sydney United and we want to keep that door open.
“But having said that, we do have some challenges with the club mainly around the Australia Cup final last year which we‘re still working through with that club.
“We have got to work through that judicial process with the club, and the club needs to understand that some of the behaviours that we saw at the Australia Cup final will not be welcome in the second tier.
“Now, does that exclude them from this competition? No, it doesn’t, but it is a relevant factor.”
Eight teams from Victoria, 10 from NSW and seven from Queensland dominate the list of clubs that formally expressed their interest.
The formulation of the second-tier competition remains the subject of ongoing discussions, but the prospect of promotion and relegation to the A-League for second-tier teams is only likely once it is “mature”.
The next phase of the process will included clubs submitting more detailed proposals, with the hope the competition will be ready to begin in 2024.
FULL LIST OF CLUBS WANTING TO JOIN NATIONAL SECOND-TIER COMPETITION
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra Croatia FC
Gungahlin United FC
APIA Leichhardt FC
Blacktown City FC
Fraser Park FC*
Marconi Stallions FC
Rockdale City FC
Sutherland Sharks FC/Cronulla Sharks
Sydney Olympic FC
Sydney United 58 FC
Wollongong Wolves FC
Brisbane City FC
Brisbane United FC (Wynnum Wolves FC, Brisbane Strikers FC, Virginia United FC)
Gold Coast Knights FC
Gold Coast United FC
Peninsula Power FC
Sunshine Coast FC Fire
Adelaide City FC
Football SA (Campbelltown City SC, North Eastern MetroStars, West Torrens Birkalla SC)
Playford City Soccer and Community Club
South Hobart FC
Bentleigh Greens SC
Brunswick Juventus FC
Green Gully SC
Heidelberg United FC
Melbourne Knights FC
Preston Lions FC
South Melbourne FC
Spearwood Dalmatinac / Cockburn City SC*