Central West restructure sees competition thrive
A radical change to the structure of the AFL Central West Men’s competitions has balanced the competitiveness of the local league.
A main club affected, the Bathurst Bushrangers, embraced the change and have led the way for the league, capitalising on the opportunity to ensure sustainability in the Central West region.
Following the changes, a league that once saw the same winners over and over, has now become more competitive and enjoyable for all involved.
In 2016, AFL Central West took the leap to change the two-tiered competition it had been running for some time.
Since 1992, the league has had a First Grade and a Reserve Grade Men’s competition, and often these competitions would become quite one-sided.
In 2015, the First Grade competition featured four teams and much like previous years, the Bathurst Bushrangers and Orange Tigers played in the final. The remaining two teams struggled to compete and retain players. The senior Grand Final could have been played in Week One between the Tigers and the Bushrangers, such was the dominance of the two teams.
Similarly, the Reserve Grade competition had a split down the middle, with three teams sitting equal top of the ladder, after an average winning margin of 9.5 goals per match over the remaining three clubs.
A lack of teams in each of the competitions – coupled with the fact that some clubs were unable to field two teams – meant that a competition restructure was necessary.
The decision was made in 2016 to create a one-tier senior men’s competition for AFL Central West which was met with resistance from some stakeholders. The league’s main aims were to enhance the competitive balance and ensure the sustainability of all clubs.
Despite concerns by some clubs that the new one-tier competition would decrease the standard in the league, most clubs have welcomed the change.
The Bathurst Bushrangers elected to enter two teams in the competition, using a Player Draft system to ensure an even-spread of their most skilled players.
The annual player draft has become a feature event for the club, with players being picked by their respective coaches for either the Bushranger Rebels or the Bushranger Outlaws. This ensured that the teams were both equally competitive an ensures that the club is not divided by fostering a strong club culture.
The two Bathurst teams finished first and third respectively, meeting in the 2016 Preliminary Final.
The new competition structure has proved a success, with six of the eight teams realistic chance of playing finals throughout the season. Notably, no winning margin between those teams has ever exceeded ten goals. The model has even enticed some of their old players to return to play for the Bushrangers in 2017.
The new one tier system also enabled the entry of a new senior team in the Bathurst region. The Bathurst Giants finished this season in an admirable fifth position after amassing five wins.
The Rebels and Outlaws finished in first and third position respectively at the end of the home and away season.
This weekend, the Grand Final will be played out by the Orange Tigers and the Bathurst Outlaws at Bloomfield Oval with kick off at 2.30pm.