GROWING: Newcastle City and Terrigal-Avoca battle it out in the Black Diamond grand final last year. Picture: Simone De PeakAFL officials have started planning for a new inner-city Australian rules club to cater for growing demand in Newcastle.

The NSW/ACT AFL hosted a meeting in Newcastle on Monday to set up a working party which will examine where the team will play, what it will be called and other details.

NSW/ACT AFL Northern NSW regional manager Simon Smythsaid Black Diamond Cup powerhouse Newcastle City had enjoyed a 37 per cent rise in junior player numbers and a 38 per cent increase in seniors from 2013 to 2016. The Blues and the Wallsend Swans, who have several junior teams, are the only Australian rules clubs in the Newcastle local government area.

“The rationale is the growth that we’ve seen within junior, senior and especially women’s AFL across the Hunter Valley, but more specifically Newcastle, and given the projected population growth that we will be seeing in the next 10 or 15 years,” Smyth said.

“We’re just trying to get ahead of the eight-ball and create opportunities for our game to continue to grow in Newcastle, and we think the best way to do that is to have another junior, senior, women’s club in the area.”

Newcastle City president Daniel Gardner, whose club has more than 150 registered seniors across three men’s and two women’s teams, said the Blues supported the idea of a second inner-city team as it would give more players opportunities to play at a highlevel.

The Blues have established themselves as the city’sdominant club on and off the field with drawcard facilities at No.1 Sportsground, although a controversial ban on recruiting players has brought them back to the pack this season.

But Smyth said the push for a new club was not aimed at spreading talent more evenly in the competition.

“That’s certainly not the driving factor. The driving factor is we need to cater for participants. There’s only so many teams we can fit on No.1 Sportsground at the moment,” he said.

“We’ve got the Newcastle City junior club booming and having their surplus teams playing elsewhere just to cater for the demand.

“Even though equalising talent may be a by-product, certainly that’s not the driving factor. We know our game’s growing, and the population of Newcastle will continue to grow,and not all of these players will be able to find a home at Newcastle City in the next five or ten years.”

West Newcastle played out of Wickham’s Hawkins Oval in the Newcastle AFL before merging with Wallsend when the Black Diamond AFL competition began in 2000.

Smyth said representatives from the former club were excited that “their patch of turf could be playing footy again”, although it was too early to say where a new club would play.

“We can’t come in and take over the ground of another sport, even though Hawkins Oval was a ground we used to play at,” he said. “We’ll be in constant communication with the council around opportunities to play at any facility we believe is appropriate in the inner west of Newcastle.

“Obviously Hawkins Oval makes sense from a traditional point of view, but we’re not in a position to go and knock out the current tenants.We understand that we may have to work with council and co-share with another code.”

Smyth said a club name was also open for debate.

“That’ll be up to the working party to decide, and it will come down to whether we’re relocating a club or starting up a new club or rehashing an old club, but certainly we think that having Newcastle in the name is an important thing so that people can play for this club and represent a part of Newcastle.”

The NSW/ACT AFL hopes the new club will have junior and women’s teams playing by next year.

“We want to aim high. That will be the charter of the working party to make those things happen,” Smyth said.

“There is a demand around women’s football at the moment.We know that we could probably start a women’s team tomorrow if we wanted to. And certainly there’s plenty of demand for junior footy and Auskick.

“At a minimum, if we can get a women’s team, some junior teams and some Auskick next year, that’s what we’ll be aiming for.

“If we’re able to get a senior men’s team as well, that’s an added bonus and we’d be very happy with that.”