The Growth Built Sydney University Australian National Football Club (SUANFC) has a rich and proud tradition as New South Wales’ oldest AFL club. Boasting eight teams and over 350 club members, SUANFC has also made its mark as one of the state’s largest football clubs.
In 2012, the club first entered a team in the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) creating a pathway in Sydney for both local and interstate talent to the AFL. Competing against strong teams from the North East each week, including four reserve AFL teams (Sydney, GWS, Brisbane and Gold Coast) has not only strengthened the NEAFL team, but also the Sydney Uni Club as a whole.
Now backed by industry-leading construction firm, Growthbuilt, the Club have a huge season ahead from grassroots through to the elite level.
This year, Sydney Uni will enter its seventh NEAFL season. There has been vast growth for the club since joining the competition. Preliminary finals appearances in the last three seasons are a far cry from where they finished, near the bottom of the ladder, the three seasons prior. However, as they push towards an elusive Grand Final appearance, the team must continue to evolve. “There have been a lot of changes in the last twelve months – the game plan, the list and the staff were all significantly different in 2017 from 2016,” head coach Tom Morrison said. “We felt that this would set us up to make smaller adjustments in year two and three to ensure that we could capitalise on the changes with a greater rate of success.”
BRIDGING THE GAP
Despite bowing out in the preliminary final, SUANFC’s NEAFL team took some big steps forward in 2017, while ticking off a number of club records in their most successful season to date. In his first year at the helm, Morrison guided the Students to their best regular season win-loss record (14-4) since joining the competition. The Students created history in Round 19 against the NT Thunder, producing their biggest ever score – plus their biggest winning margin – when they put on a clinic against the Territorians to win 25.17 (167) to 7.7 (49). With each of their losses in the 2017 season coming only from the AFL reserve sides, the Students have also further separated themselves from the non-AFL teams in the league, and have begun to bridge the gap between the AFL sides.
MAINTAINING THE CORE GROUP
Morrison is pleased the team have retained the majority of their list from their successful 2017 campaign, including team captain Lewis Stevenson and back-to-back Driscoll Best and Fairest medallist, Tom Young. One major loss is veteran, Tom Ayton who reached his100 game NEAFL milestone last year. “Ayton has been a key member of our program for the past five years. He will be sorely missed as he has performed many important roles for our Club, whilst building our NEAFL program into what it is today,” Morrison said. “The remainder of our playing group, both young and the more seasoned footballers, have continued on for season2018, which we are really happy about.”
Along with their core group of senior players, Sydney Uni boast a strong crop of rising stars who have returned for the 2018 campaign. Most notable are former Sydney Swans Academy products, Ryan Hebron and Darcy Baron Hay. Stepping into the NEAFL starting group in 2017, they earned NEAFL rising star nominations, were named in the NEAFL representative side and both earned NEAFL Team of the Year selection.
The Students have added three major signings for their2018 campaign. Sydney Swans premiership player and former Essendon Bomber, Craig Bird has joined Sydney Uni after playing 157 AFL games across both clubs. Former AFL players Brandon Jack (Sydney Swans) and Shaun Edwards(GWS, Essendon) will also bring experience from the top level to the group. “These three will be important for us in 2018 as we look to take a step further than season 2017 and play in a Grand Final. Craig, Brandon and Shaun are all experienced footballers who will provide leadership, leg speed and football smarts for our group.” “We have also added another batch of exciting young local talent that we feel will develop into very good footballers over the course of the season.”
Playing a ‘team first’ brand of football was integral to the group’s success last season and will be a key focus for the upcoming season. “We reviewed our 2017 season very heavily and identified some areas of our game plan, list and staff that needed development and we feel we have made, and are continuing to make these adjustments,” Morrison said. “There won’t be a great deal of change from 2017 but we will be a significantly improved team by the end of pre-season with a hungry list of players that are keen for team success.”
Round One will see the Students head to Canberra to take on the Demons on Saturday, 7 April. They will return to Henson Park for their first home game in Round Two on Saturday 14 April at midday. The Students will face the Redland Bombers. “The rival non-AFL sides have all recruited really strongly, which is great for the competition. I don’t see there being any easy matches this year but from what I have seen so far from our group this pre-season I have a lot of belief that we will move forward in 2018.”