The Gold Coast SUNS are pleased to announce a new partnership with both the Northern Territory Government and AFL Northern Territory that will see the club continue to help grow the game throughout its new Academy Zone.

As part of the agreement announced today with the Northern Territory Government (NTG), the Gold Coast SUNS will play one Toyota AFL Premiership game in Darwin for four years starting in 2020.

GC SUNS Chief Executive Mark Evans was excited about the opportunities that lay ahead for the club.

“We are thrilled to have Darwin confirmed as a Gold Coast SUNS Talent Academy Zone and to highlight our commitment to the region and with thanks to the support of the NT Government and AFL we are pleased to announce that we will play AFL games in Darwin,” Evans said.

“We share AFLNT’s vision of increasing participation and seeing more Northern Territory talent on AFL and AFLW lists and to drive this we have committed to delivering programs and creating pathways to foster talent and develop people.

Northern Territory Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Lauren Moss described the importance of football in the community.

“Footy is a way of life in the Territory, playing a key role in keeping young people on a positive path and supporting stronger communities.

“This new agreement with the AFL will see top-quality games continue to be played in Darwin over the next four years, providing a boost to the local economy as well as supporting strong grassroots footy and clear pathways for Territory players looking to make it at elite levels.

“The SUNS have committed to working with the community to ensure their presence in the NT provides outcomes for the community beyond the games themselves including the roll out of a series of grassroots focused football activities in the region.

“AFLNT’s new player pathways plan aligns with this new agreement and signals a new chapter for Territory footy.  It will help uncover and develop talent across the Territory, giving aspiring young players more opportunities to play in the AFLW and AFL.

“AFL games help drive visitation, support our local businesses and boost the economy and we look forward to welcoming the Gold Coast SUNS to the Territory in 2020.”

The long-term nature of the arrangement and the investment being made by both parties signifies a strong commitment to continue to grow Australian Football in Darwin, while also being closely aligned to AFLNT's talent pathways structure and community agenda.

AFLNT CEO Stuart Totham said that football in the NT was taking a more holistic approach in the future.

“We are very appreciative of the Northern Territory Government, AFL and Gold Coast Football Club for working with us on a plan that not only covers games here in the NT over the next four years but will deliver great community benefits and provide a boost to all the aspiring Territory footballers dreaming of making it the AFL and AFLW, while also driving growth in the game throughout the NT.

“At AFLNT, we are focused on increasing the number of AFL and AFLW players from the NT.  The long-term commitment by the NTG, AFL and clubs to NT football will give us a solid platform from which we can broaden and grow our current talent base and facilitate the growth in the presence of NT players at the elite level.

Andrew Dillon, the AFL's General Manager of Game Development said today's announcement aligned with the AFL's vision.

“The AFL thanks the NT Government for its support in sharing our vision of giving boys and girls the best opportunity of developing their footy in the Territory, along with helping bring AFL and AFLW matches to every state and territory across the country.”

From the 2021 NAB AFLW season, the SUNS will reserve six spots on their AFLW list for NT players, assuring that the best Territory female footballers have an opportunity to perform at the elite level.

This sits in conjunction with the endorsement the AFL Commission gave two weeks ago; that with Darwin provisioned as a SUNS Academy zone, the club has the ability to pre-sign players without having to work through the Draft bidding system and an increase to include 10 players on its rookie list.

As part of the agreement the club has also indicated it will look to select talented footballers from the NT for available NEAFL (male) and Super Series (female) spots on their playing list.

The club will also look to build on the important role it play’s in the community by assisting AFLNT in the delivery of footy programs, as well as continuing to provide education and support to local coaches and professional development to AFLNT high-performance staff.