Football Australia boss James Johnson admits he was “surprised” when the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks were unveiled as part of a joint bid to enter a new Tier 2 domestic competition.
The NRL club have joined Sutherland Sharks FC as one of 32 homegrown clubs looking to take part in the new competition, which is due to start in 2024 and could one day include promotion to the A-League.
The Sharks were part of the Southern Expansion’s failed attempt to join the A-League, which was overlooked by Macarthur FC, but are now on the verge of entering a potential 10-16 team competition with the NRL club’s financial backing.
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“It was a name that put a smile on my face when I saw it — it actually surprised me,” Johnson said Tuesday.
“I’m pretty excited and I think we should welcome that.
“It’s a region that’s huge in terms of our participation numbers. Rugby league plays in a rectangular ground which is good for us because it creates energy and excitement in a game if you have the right stadium.
“They obviously have financial backing behind them and have partnered with one of our biggest federations, so I think that’s actually an exciting combination that we’d like to explore. The door is definitely open to them.”
Johnson said racist behavior, including Nazi salutes, by Sydney United 58 fans remains a “relative factor” in their quest for a place in the competition.
The club have been fined and fans banned by FA following his performance in the Australia Cup final last October.
“We wanted to open up this process to as many clubs as possible,” Johnson said.
“The door was never closed for Sydney United and we want to keep that door open.
“Nevertheless, we have some challenges with the club, mainly relating to last year’s Australia Cup final, which we are still working on with this club.
“We need to work through this court case with the club and the club need to understand that some of the behavior we saw at the Australia Cup final will not be welcome in League Two.
“Does that disqualify you from this competition now?” No, it doesn’t, but it’s a relevant factor.”
Eight teams from Victoria, ten from NSW and seven from Queensland dominate the list of clubs that have officially expressed interest.
The wording of the second division competition remains a matter of ongoing debate, but the prospect of promotion and relegation to the A division for second division clubs is not likely until it is ‘mature’.
In the next phase of the process, clubs will submit more detailed proposals in hopes of the competition being able to start in 2024.
FULL LIST OF CLUBS WISHING TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SECOND SERIES NATIONAL COMPETITION
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra Croatia FC
Gungahlin United FC
APIA Leichhardt FC
Blacktown City FC
Fraser Park FC*
Marconi Stallions FC
Rockdale Ilinden 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 F.C
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 F.C
South Melbourne F.C
Spearwood Dalmatinac / Cockburn City SC*