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Zebras ponder end to VFL alignment with St Kilda

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 14:  Nathan Freeman of Sandringham is tackled during the 2017 VFL round 05 match between the Coburg Lions and the Sandringham Zebras at Piranha Park on May 14, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Rob Prezioso/AFL Media)
St Kilda's Nathan Freeman fires out a handball while playing for Sandringham in the VFL in May

SANDRINGHAM'S board and leadership group members were deep in discussion on Tuesday night about the possibility of ending the VFL club's eight-year alignment with St Kilda.

The meeting comes as VFL clubs prepare for the strong likelihood of the Development League – the state league's reserves competition – ceasing at season's end.

AFL Victoria met last Friday and will announce a decision this week, but AFL.com.au understands clubs are resigned to the Development League's fate. 

Zebras and Saints officials also met in the past month about their alignment, which is a "rolling agreement" rather than a contract. But typically each club would have to make a decision early in the previous season about continuing the union into the next year. 

"It's pretty much a guarantee (the DL will be gone), and as a club we have to explore our options," Sandringham operations manager Josh Vella told AFL.com.au.

"There has been a number of meetings in the past week, with the players alone and the players' leadership group and John Mennie, our CEO."

The club is believed to be under time pressure to make a decision because if it is to go standalone – which AFL.com.au understands is an option - St Kilda will need to quickly come up with a plan for its seconds team.  

Any Zebras decision would be made with long-term rather than just short-term viability in mind, Vella said. AFL.com.au contacted St Kilda about the developing alignment situation, but club officials chose not to comment. 

There would be limited spots for non-AFL-listed players at aligned VFL clubs if the DL was to go, but "cost pressures" – among other reasons – led to an AFL Victoria review. It was also considered last year.

Box Hill Hawks, Casey Demons, Coburg, Northern Blues, Port Melbourne, Sandringham, Werribee and Williamstown all have DL sides. But Frankston general manager Gary Buckenara, who led a Dolphins presentation to AFL Victoria on Monday with a view to re-entry into the VFL, told AFL.com.au in May that his club would not field a DL team if it returns.

Frankston, where Matthew Boyd, Tory Dickson, Michael Hibberd, Sam Lloyd, Mark Baguley and Nic Newman once played, will find out on August 7 if its bid was successful. 

The potential of the Zebras cutting ties with the Saints follows North Melbourne's announcement in April that it was breaking away from Werribee to launch a standalone VFL team next season.

That decision left St Kilda (Sandringham), Melbourne (Casey Demons), Carlton (Northern Blues) and Hawthorn (Box Hill Hawks) as the only AFL clubs with VFL alignments beyond this year. The Zebras were previously aligned with the Demons from 2000 to 2008.