Greater Western Sydney chief executive David Matthews sees the ARL Commission’s plans to give western Sydney NRL clubs extra funding just as much about ‘‘equalisation’’ as it is about defending its territory against invaders.
And while the NRL will send monetary reinforcements to Sydney’s west, The Canberra Times can reveal the Giants’ new weapon in their ACT incursion.
As part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations, GWS will wear a special guernsey, which incorporates ACT gold, for next Saturday’s clash against St Kilda at Manuka Oval.
NRL boss David Smith revealed plans to give western Sydney clubs extra funding on Thursday as they battle the Giants and A-League ladder leaders Western Sydney Wanderers for fans.
But Matthews thought the ‘‘common sense’’ plan was just as much about levelling the playing field between rich and poor clubs in the competition as it was about fighting off the other football codes.
It’s something the AFL has done for a long time, regularly giving additional funds to struggling clubs like North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs to help them be competitive with rich clubs like Collingwood and Hawthorn.
‘‘I’m sure it’s in part as a consequence that the Giants are in place and the Wanderers in place, there’d be no denying that, but I think at the same time it’s [to do with] competitive balance within their own competition,’’ Matthews said.
He didn’t see the extra funding to the NRL clubs as a threat and was comfortable with the progress his second-year AFL club had made.
Matthews said it was always going to be a competitive market and Australian football had been making steady inroads into Sydney’s west for more than a decade.
The AFL claimed participation numbers had jumped almost 30 per cent since last season as the Giants started to attract kids to the game.
He said the region was big enough to support all codes.
‘‘Sydney is probably one of the most competitive sporting markets in the world,’’ Matthews said.
‘‘There is a lot of competition so you’re mindful of what other sports are doing, but at the same time what’s most important is what you’re doing yourself and what you can control.
‘‘I think we’re getting our building blocks in place pretty well ... we’ve got 5000 ahead on membership year-on-year and the AFL investment in western Sydney has been sustained since the year 2000.’’
But it’s not just about western Sydney for the Giants, they want to become a national brand and continue to connect with Canberra, where they are in the second year of a 10-year deal to play three home-and-away games in the nation’s capital every season.
GWS will also hold a grand final lunch in the ACT for the first time this year, while the AFL’s Hall of Fame dinner will form part of Canberra’s 100th birthday bash.
The Giants will wear a special guernsey for the St Kilda game, which will be partially played under the new Manuka lights.
They’ll also play the Western Bulldogs for the Prime Minister’s Cup and fellow AFL newcomers Gold Coast in Canberra this season.
Matthews dismissed claims the one-off guernsey was simply a marketing gimmick.
‘‘The game against St Kilda is going to be beamed to 300,000 to 400,000 people across Australia, what better way to give some visibility [to Canberra] than to have an event jumper like that,’’ he said.
‘‘To be quite honest, if there are any cynics, and I don’t understand that, because we’ve worked closely with the ACT government with what’s the best way to promote and this is an important initiative for them and we’re more than happy to work with them on it.’’
He said the Giants’ competitive showing against reigning premiers Sydney Swans in the opening round, along with Gold Coast’s upset win over St Kilda meant Manuka should be in for a great game next weekend.
The Giants beat St Kilda during the pre-season NAB Cup and are looming as a serious chance of beating the 2010 grand finalists in a week’s time.
But first GWS play Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium on Saturday night.