THE Border’s AFL dream has come true with two NAB Cup matches to be played at Wangaratta and Lavington in March.
The preseason competition has had another format change with the AFL announcing yesterday all 18 clubs will play fixtured matches in the opening three rounds of competition including Essendon-St Kilda at the Wangaratta Showgrounds on March 3 and Greater Western Sydney-Gold Coast a week later at Lavington Oval.
The top two teams over the opening three rounds will play in the preseason grand final on March 17 with the remaining 16 clubs playing practice matches the same weekend.
It replaces the regional challenge matches across Australia including Lavington when AFL clubs regularly fielded below-strength teams.
Wangaratta mayor Anthony Griffiths said yesterday the council had started planning for a crowd of more than 10,000 at the game.
“This is only the first practice match of quite a number and we want to make sure we do a good job of it,” he said.
The showgrounds are undergoing a $3 million upgrade.
The match will be played under an upgraded lighting system costing a further $700,000.
Temporary seating on the bike track is expected to be created to accommodate the large crowd.
GWS is returning to Lavington Oval after more than 6000 people watched the AFL’s newest club play the Kangaroos in March this year.
A digital full-colour scoreboard is expected to be built at Lavington ahead of the game.
Cr Griffiths said the Essendon-St Kilda clash would be the first of five games played at the showgrounds in the next 10 years and reaffirmed the council’s desire to secure the Ovens and Murray grand final presently played at Lavington.
“The preliminary estimates are well over 10,000 and possibly up to 15,000,” he said.
“It was one of the design features of the redevelopment to increase the spectator space.
“Now we have seen the lighting in operation it is just fantastic.
Wangaratta-based company Browns Builders is on target to complete the construction of the multi-purpose venue in January with work to start on the elevated viewing area next week.
The last time a “serious” preseason game was played at Lavington was in 1993 between Richmond and Sydney.