This year the AFL is celebrating the 30-year history of the competition which has produced more AFL and AFLW players than any other in recent decades, the NAB League (formerly TAC Cup).
The boys competition was first played in 1992 as the Victorian State Football League (VSFL) Under 18s with six teams and was sponsored by the TAC up until 2018, before NAB took over naming rights. The girls competition was introduced in 2017.
As part of the milestone, the AFL and Herald Sun have come together to produce lists of the top 30 AFL and AFLW Victorian players who played in the NAB League. The top 30 lists have been published by the Herald Sun and can be viewed on afl.com.au here.
The NAB League lays claim to producing the following:
• More than 1500 AFL and more than 130 AFLW players
• 20 out of 30 AFL number one draft picks and six out of seven AFLW number one draft picks
• 13 Brownlow Medal winners and one AFLW League Best-and-Fairest
• 12 Coleman Medal winners and one AFLW League Leading Goal Kicker
• 14 NAB AFL Rising Star winners and five NAB AFLW Rising Star winners
In addition to the top 30 lists, the milestone will be recognised by NAB League programs in the lead up to and during Round 13 across July 23 and 24, including some wearing retro guernseys. To kick off celebrations, many influential people in the NAB League’s history came together for a function at GMHBA Stadium last Sunday following the NAB AFL National Championships U18 Boys double header.
The NAB League has a proud history of involving teams and programs from outside Victoria. Tassie Mariners were in the competition from 1995 to 2002 before returning in 2019 as Tasmania Devils. NSW/ACT Rams were in the competition from 1996 to 2002. The Rams' Lenny Hayes remains the only player from a non-Victorian team to win the Morrish Medal (1998). Representative teams from Queensland, NSW/ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania have played some matches in seasons over the history of the competition.
In 2019, the NAB League welcomed Academy teams Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns, GWS Giants and Sydney Swans along with Northern Territory Thunder, to contest matches against NAB League programs as part of the fixture. The Suns (2009) and Giants (2010) previously played one full season as part of their progression towards the AFL. Each Academy team continues to play matches in both the boys and girls competitions, although not the full season.
AFL Talent Ambassador, Kevin Sheehan, was part of the group that formed the then VSFL for its inaugural season back in 1992 and is proud of how far the competition has come.
“For three decades the NAB League has been an integral part of the Australian football talent pathway system, with more AFL and AFLW players coming from the NAB League than any other competition,” Sheehan said.
“When we first established the VSFL with six teams in 1992, we set out to ensure that the most talented footballers in the state would have a clear pathway to reach their potential through a system that taught and nurtured high-performance standards and focused on development. That aim has not changed.
“To see where the NAB League is at in 2022 with full boys and girls competitions, involving teams from Victoria and Tasmania as well as New South Wales/ACT, Queensland and the Northern Territory, is a source of immense pride for everyone associated with the NAB League.
“We have just seen more than 30 girls drafted from the NAB League in the latest NAB AFLW Draft for the upcoming season seven, including eight of the top 10 picks, which is fantastic. Meanwhile, the batch of talent coming through on the boys side is incredibly exciting and we are likely to see a very strong showing at the next NAB AFL Draft later this year.”
AFL Head of Talent Pathways, Grant Williams, praised those involved in the establishment of the competition all those years ago for their foresight and persistence.
“All those who have been part of the NAB League dating back to the VSFL in 1992 and more recently since the inception of NAB League Girls in 2017 have played important roles in ensuring it’s the premier pathway competition for the game’s most talented young boys and girls,” Williams said.
“The NAB League provides a foundation for so many of the best young footballers but also emerging coaches, administrators and umpires, many of whom also aspire to progress to AFL and AFLW clubs.
“NAB League programs help to support players, administrators, coaches and umpires develop to be the best they can be, whether that’s at AFL/AFLW level, state league or community football.
“It’s important to acknowledge the significant role that the NAB League has played in the football landscape for over 30 years now, particularly in Victoria. We look forward to what the coming decades bring for the competition and those involved in it.”
NAB League programs
Calder Cannons (entered the competition in 1995)
Eastern Ranges (entered the competition in 1992)
Northern Knights (entered the competition in 1992)
Oakleigh Chargers (entered the competition in 1995)
Sandringham Dragons (entered the competition in 1992 as Central Districts Dragons)
Western Jets (entered the competition in 1992)
Bendigo Pioneers (entered the competition in 1993)
Dandenong Stingrays (entered the competition in 1992 as Southern Stingrays)
Geelong Falcons (entered the competition in 1992)
Gippsland Power (entered the competition in 1993)
Greater Western Victoria Rebels (entered the competition in 1993 as Ballarat Rebels)
Murray Bushrangers (entered the competition in 1993)
Brisbane Lions Academy (first played in 2019)
Gold Coast Suns Academy (played one season in 2009 before re-entering the competition in 2019)
GWS Giants Academy (played one season in 2010 before re-entering the competition in 2019)
Sydney Swans Academy (first played in 2019)
Tasmania Devils (part of the competition from 1995-2002 as Tassie Mariners before re-joining the competition in 2019 as Tasmania Devils)
*The NSW/ACT Rams were part of the competition from 1996-2002