Wolves set to include Canberra in A-League bid

Wolves striker Nico Bernal. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Wolves striker Nico Bernal. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The Wollongong Wolves are set to include Canberra as part of their bid to join the A-League in a move that could be a crucial part of the ACT government’s plans to build a new stadium.

Fairfax Media can reveal Wolves chief executive Chris Papakosmas wants the capital as a key element to Wollongong’s hopes of joining the competition in the coming years.

There were rumours of a bid for a stand alone team in Canberra, but that appears to have fallen flat in its initial stages.

The Central Coast Mariners are also keen to continue a relationship with Canberra but moving A-League games to Canberra Stadium would require government funding.

ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said A-League content was a must if the government was to build a new $350 million rectangular stadium in Civic by the mid 2020s.

His preference is to align with an A-League club and form a long-term relationship similar to the one forged with AFL newcomers the GWS Giants.

The Giants and government agreed to a 10-year deal to have the GWS side play three premiership games per year at Manuka Oval.

Barr could be attracted to the Wolves bid because it would give Canberra to be a part of the club as soon as it joins the A-League rather than trying to partner with an existing team.

The Mariners laid the groundwork for future partnerships when they played two games in Canberra this season, taking a risk and losing money to show their commitment to the city.

The Mariners and government are yet to begin negotiations about continuing their relationship.

Barr said the government would ‘‘progress’’ plans for a new venue but a soccer presence was needed to make the project financially viable.

However, the prospect of the Wolves’ link to Canberra relies on A-League expansion, and FFA boss David Gallop has ruled that out for the next two years.

"We’re putting together a very strong and holistic and complete submission which involves Canberra and we’re well on track to have a strong submission ready for the FFA when expansion is back on the table,’’ Papakosmas said.

"Canberra is an area and a market that is absolutely crucial to the growth of football and it’s about much more than just A-League games in Canberra.

‘‘It’s also about the clinics and tournaments and opportunities and the pathways we’ll provide for players. We’re talking about a whole new vision and looking at how football is rolled out in our back yard, particularly taking into account the juniors.’’

The Wolves already have a footprint in Canberra after partnering with Belconnen United in establishing a development program ready to kick off this season.

‘‘We’ve got some Canberra kids we’re keeping our eye on already and having a chat with,’’ Papakosmas said.

‘‘It’s no stretch of the imagination that one day there will be Canberra locals playing through the pathways at Wolves and will play in the A-League, that’s a guaranteed fact.’’

An ‘‘A-league4Canberra’’ bid raised $5 million in capital several years ago, but the FFA overlooked Canberra  to instead expand into western Sydney.

Papakosmas said it was baffling the South Coast and ACT have been denied a team despite a healthy appetitive for the game.

‘‘I’ve never been able to work it out, when you take into account the nursery and product line we continue to role out with players in every A-League team,’’ Papakosmas said.

‘‘You add Canberra to that, who have a had long and strong history of development of football, and to no even be in the conversation doesn’t make any sense.

‘‘You talk expansion and growing the game and introducing new fans and new footprints, there is a lot of passionate football people in Canberra and on the South Coast. But if we’re mentioned at all it’s mentioned as an afterthought and at the end of the conversation, we’re here to put an end to the conversation full stop.’’

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