Luca Balestrazzi from Brisbane Roar FC with junior Byron Bay players Zali Black and Valentino Lanzeni.
Luca Balestrazzi from Brisbane Roar FC with junior Byron Bay players Zali Black and Valentino Lanzeni.

A roar of opportunity for Northern NSW sport

FOR young soccer players in northern NSW, there has been a scarcity of opportunity to connect with the revered A-league.

But that’s soon to change, with Brisbane Roar launching an academy to connect with all Far North Coast clubs, hone the talents of junior players and give them more accessible prospects of serious progression.

Luca Balestrazzi is the Brisbane Roar Academy operations manager and Y-League assistant coach.

Balestrazzi said the program would be an addition to local club activities and would be available for boys and girls of all skill levels from under-8s to under-12s.

There will be two teams per age group and a potential 140 players from across the region could be involved.

“It’s not that you choose to come to this program, or you go to your club; we want to work with the clubs,” he said.

In a bid to avoid clashing with local competitions and training schedules, Balestrazzi said they were hoping to run the program on Sundays at Byron’s Cavanbah Centre, but this was yet to be confirmed.

These sessions will likely be one hour long.

Following a one-day clinic, the program will involve weekly sessions throughout Term 3, focusing on finessing technique.

Brisbane Roar is seeking expressions of interest for players who would like to take part. Balestrazzi said they would ultimately be channelled into carnivals, so it was more than just training.

“It’s very challenging for parents and players in this region because they are isolated from a big city,” he said.

“We are the closest club, logistically, that can provide a professional pathway.

“It’s amazing because we feel, I feel, they have something to aspire to.

“When you’re a kid and you love a game … you watch the players on television and all of that.”

He said this program would mean they could nurture that desire and ambition within young players in northern NSW’s regional communities.

“Then on a personal level … we want to have a presence in the region so we’re very excited,” he said.

They will be liaising with local clubs and the volunteers who are their backbone.

“There is this perception that we’re something special,” Balestrazzi said.

“Of course we are professional … but we are sharing, we are open to conversations with everyone.

“As much as we can help coaches and clubs … if we collaborate, we can learn from local coaches and local clubs.” as well.

“It’s a reciprocal relationship. It’s something that the clubs are very excited about, the whole community is excited about.

“It’s never existed before here.”

The program will encompass an area that involves more than 20 clubs.

Fiona Black said her daughter, Zali, was in Byron Bay FC’s Skill Acquisition Program. Zali also plays AFL and tennis – the latter being the only one she could continue during the COVID-19 shutdown – and tries out for any school representative team she can.

“The SAP team … is something that’s good for her to be able to further her skills,” Black said.

“She would train every day if she could.

“We do a lot of driving to the Gold Coast and it can be pretty tough for them.”

She said this program would be a good opportunity for her children and other young players to access progression in the sport much closer to home.

“It’s just fantastic,” she said.

Giuseppe Lanzeni said his son, Valentino, would also benefit from the closer proximity.

“We’re very happy that this opportunity has come up because I’m Italian and my dad was a good player,” Lanzeni said.

When his family moved to the Byron Shire, he said they loved being in the region but were aware there were fewer opportunities to access higher levels of soccer.

“It’s good for him, because the more he’s pushed, the more he seems to do better,” he said.

The Brisbane Roar’s Christian Layland said it was “a great opportunity” for young players across northern NSW.

He said they were targeting players in the 8-12 age group as this is a prime period to boost their skills and identify emerging talents.

Players from right across the Football Far North Coast region will be eligible.

For more information or to register your interest, visit

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