The Sunshine Coast Lightning netball team has paved the way for elite sports on the Coast, but how long before other codes follow – and will we ever see our own NRL team battling it out on home turf? WORDS: Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane for My Weekly Preview.
Image: Greg Gardner Photography
Does the Sunshine Coast have what it takes to field its own National Rugby League team? If the success of the region’s first national elite sporting team, the Sunshine Coast Lightning, is anything to go by, then the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.
With the support of team co-owners Melbourne Storm and the University of the Sunshine Coast, the Lightning burst onto the national netball scene, drawing with the Queensland Firebirds in round one, before winning the next two rounds and losing the fourth round by just one goal, before toppling premiership favourite, Collingwood, in round five.
In the process, they have gained more than 2000 club members and have attracted so many corporate sponsors they have already had to have new uniforms made in order to accommodate all of the business logos.
The way the region has embraced its first national team is setting the stage for other codes, whose leaders will no doubt be watching the Lightning’s first season closely.
Among them is former NRL Sydney Roosters lock Chris Flannery, who is now the chief executive of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
With two daughters who are netball fanatics, Flannery says it has been fantastic to see how quickly the region got behind the eclectic mix of players and their fearless leader, New Zealand’s most successful netball coach, Noeline Taurua.
“They have been going very well from the start and it is great for the Sunshine Coast to have their first national team to be proud of and get behind,” he says.
Seeing what they are doing, it would be fantastic to get an NRL team here for our local kids playing rugby league.”
The Melbourne Storm branched out to the Sunshine Coast this year by establishing an academy at the Sunshine Coast Stadium at Bokarina and relocating their National Youth Competition under 20s side to the Coast.
But when it came to establishing a national elite sporting team, the Storm decided to diversify into women’s sport and capitalise on the popularity of netball in the region – a move that is quickly paying off.
Although preparing an NRL team bid is not something that has been discussed at a Falcons board level, Flannery says it has been a long-held dream for the club and he personally hoped any future Coast NRL team would carry the Falcons branding.
“We have established this great feeder relationship with the Storm, we have the climate to attract players, the facilities here are first class and we are about halfway here… at least,” he says.
“We are definitely heading in the right direction and we are doing everything that we can to move towards that. We are just doing our best in the Intrust Super Cup at the moment, but it is a dream for us to get there one day.”
With the recently completed $2.4 million upgrade to raise the capacity of the Sunshine Coast Stadium to 10,000 people, Flannery says we now have “one of the best facilities” in the Queensland Rugby League competition.
“Our facilities are a lot better than some of the grounds I played at in England during my league career, and it’s also a lot better than a couple of the existing NRL clubs and with the trial NRL game played between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors attracting more than 10,000 spectators to the stadium, the demand is definitely there,” he tells My Weekly Preview.
“With all of the development and the new estates here on the Coast, population growth is definitely happening and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be looking at an NRL team in the next 10 to 15 years.”
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