Belconnen and Queanbeyan look unlikely to be involved in the NEAFL next year. Photo: Graham Tidy
Two of Canberra's best-performing teams over the past two seasons are on the verge of withdrawing from next season's NEAFL after the AFL's push to have just one club represent the region caught the clubs off guard.
Queanbeyan look certain to opt out of the second-tier competition for financial reasons, despite being only one year into a three-year contract, while Belconnen are yet to make a final decision, although withdrawal seems the most likely option.
Tuesday is looming as D-Day, with the Magpies board to make an announcement to the team at training.
Belconnen made last year's eastern conference grand final, while Queanbeyan won it the season before.
The Canberra Times believes both Eastlake and Ainslie have decided to remain in the competition and see out their two remaining years.
Clubs met with the AFL about three weeks for what they thought was a standard annual review, but the AFL's desire to cut back to just one club from Canberra shocked them.
There is disappointment from the clubs over the AFL's lack of transparency and direction, as it looks to swing a scythe through the NEAFL, as they did last year when they cut the number of Queensland community clubs from seven to three and booted Tuggeranong out as well.
It is believed the preferred model for a Canberra NEAFL team is to be a new franchise, funded by Ainslie, Belconnen, Eastlake and Queanbeyan, with the old guard returning to play in the AFL Canberra competition.
The NEAFL has said it will honour the three-year contracts, but after that the Canberra clubs have no certainty.
They can tread water for two years and find themselves in the same boat as Tuggeranong did last year, or save their money and opt out now.
It appears the latter option is the most likely, although Belconnen president Scott Reid said further discussions were needed before a final decision would be made.
Queanbeyan declined to comment.
''We want to be a part of whatever the entity [from Canberra that's in the NEAFL],'' Reid said.
''We have a resolve towards that. We believe that the model will change from what it is now, but we need to make sure that we're a part of that on some level.''
There is some support for the set-up of a new franchise, and Eastlake and Ainslie's desire to go it alone has been received with disappointment.
With both Queanbeyan and Belconnen expected to announce their withdrawal on Tuesday, AFL NSW-ACT general manager Craig Bolton said a final make-up of the 2015 NEAFL competition would be finalised by next weekend's games.
''Following mid-year discussions with all NEAFL clubs, we expect to finalise and announce the structure of the NEAFL competition for 2015 later this week,'' he said in a statement.
''For a club to withdraw, they need to formally notify their players first and foremost, as well as AFL NSW-ACT and other stakeholders.
''We will respect this process and will announce any changes when appropriate.''
There have been ongoing concerns about the competitiveness of the Canberra clubs this season, with sixth-placed Ainslie the only club in finals contention.
The other three clubs all sit in the bottom five of the 14-team league.