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By Ben Pollard

The second chapter of the South Metro Junior Football League’s new era officially began on Tuesday night.

The SMJFL season launch, at Sandy by the Bay in Sandringham, had a major theme: To build on the success of the league’s first year as a rebranded organisation.

SMJFL Chairman Roger Teale said 2012 had seen strong growth in the number of teams and registered boys and girls in the SMJFL, but there were still big questions to be answered about the league’s future growth.

“We’ve come a long way in two years, but we see some significant challenges ahead of us,” Teale said.

“How do we better plan and manage growth in our league over the next five years and what will our league look like?”

Teale also stressed the importance of keeping the SMJFL affordable and accessible to children who want to play Australian Rules, as well as pursuing the best facilities to share with the local community.

Teale reinforced that everything was aimed at achieving the SMJFL’s goal to be the country’s premier junior Australian Rules football league.

The night’s guest speaker was Melbourne Football Club AFL player – and former East Sandringham junior – Jack Watts.

Watts spoke of how the pathway from the SMJFL to TAC Cup football and the AFL had become increasingly professional since he started his junior career.

He reflected on the enjoyment he got from playing with his best mates from school and how those experiences shaped him as an AFL footballer.

“It is tough (in the AFL), because (the Demons) have been struggling the last few years,” Watts said.

“But I think I’ve tried to hold on to the fact that the reason I started playing footy in the first place is because I loved it. The big thing for me is not losing that.”

Watts appeared in an official capacity for Melbourne FC, which strongly supports the growth of women’s and girls’ football in the metropolitan Melbourne region. The Demons are also one of the SMJFL’s community partners.

Watts recalled the time when a girl on an opposing team had the best of him in a junior match, putting him “down in the dirt” at one stage.

He welcomed the fact that the rapid increase in girls participating in junior football would be “giving nightmares” to a new generation of boys.

“I think Melbourne FC recognises how quickly women’s football is growing in this area and around the state and the country,” Watts said. “To be involved in its early stages, we’ll be able to see the rewards later on.”

In a somewhat suspicious end to the formalities, Watts drew the name of his junior club East Sandringham from a hat to win the Zebras a signed Melbourne FC guernsey.

It was later confirmed that the names of the 28 other SMJFL member clubs were indeed in the hat.

* A selection of photos from the 2013 SMJFL season launch courtesy of Photogenix (Opens external link in new windowwww.photogenixsports.com.au) have been uploaded to the SMJFL Photo Gallery under the ‘Media’ tab at the top of the page.