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Footy heartlands could be title wastelands

AAP logoAAP 21/09/2016 Steve Larkin

The footy heartlands have a pulse.

But the heartlands of Australia's premier football codes could be wastelands when it comes to the grand finals.

The NRL and AFL title deciders might not feature a team from the cities which begat their cherished football codes.

Ironically, rugby league's heartland Sydney could boast the two clubs fighting for the AFL premiership.

And Australian Rules' heartland Melbourne could feature a club in the NRL title decider.

In the AFL, there's the prospect of a Sydney versus Greater Western Sydney finale.

And the NRL title bout could feature Melbourne against North Queensland.

Sure, there's preliminary finals to get through yet.

At least the cities of Melbourne and Sydney will host one this year - unlike last season, when the four respective prelims across both codes were played outside the heartlands for the first time in history.

The odds might be against the heartlands not featuring a club in both the AFL and NRL grand finals - it has only happened once - in 2006.

But the scenario should be welcome in the heartlands, says associate professor Rob Hess from Victoria University's College of Sport and Exercise Science.

"It's an absolute economic bonus for interstate teams to be in an away final," Hess told AAP on Wednesday.

"And I think the competition has matured, and football supporters have matured, to the point where they are as not as feral as they once were about the notion of invaders coming from another state to take their premiership cup or to take their seats in the stadium.

"We have breached that threshold of that level of acceptance. A great majority now understand the national competition and why it's meant to be national and what the benefits of it being national are.

"Sure, you might lose a little bit of that connection because large numbers can't get to see their team play. But given the broadcast rights deal, the live streaming of the games and all those other things that go on around the media landscape, it's not as if fans are shut out from the experience as such."

Sports historian Bernard Whimpress, a founding member of the Australian Society for Sports History, believes city-centric parochialism is on the wane - particularly in the AFL, due to the national draft.

"With the draft, with players coming from everywhere, now there's not much chance they really represent their own cities," he told AAP.

And, by now, supporters of both codes should be used to the presence of non-heartland clubs at the big dance.

From 2000 in the NRL, the grand final has twice featured no NSW clubs - 2006 and last year.

In that time span, six NRL premierships have been won by clubs outside NSW. And 10 times, the finale has featured at least one non-NSW team.

And from 2000 in the AFL, no Victorian clubs have featured in the premiership decider three times - in three consecutive years from 2004.

Over that time, non-Victorian teams have collected the cup seven times, including six in a row from 2001. And 11 grand finals have featured at least one club from outside Victoria.

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