Premier Youth League

Northern NSW Football is excited to announce the decoupling of its youth football from senior football along with the launch of a new youth competition structure.

The NNSWF Premier Youth League has been designed to enhance the talented player pathway, enable more competitive football for young players and facilitate more games of best versus best and like versus like.

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How it will work?

The 13 clubs competing in the 2022 NPL Youth NNSW and newly promoted New Lambton FC will start 2023 in Premier Youth League 1, while the 10 clubs competing in NL1 Youth will start in PYL 2.

After playing everyone in their division once, clubs will be divided into three leagues based on the collective results of their five youth teams – under-13s, 14s, 15s, 16s and 18s – in a club championship model.

The top eight performing clubs in PYL 1 will contest PYL A for the remainder of the season.

The bottom six clubs from PYL 1 and the top two clubs from PYL2 will contest PYL B.

The remaining clubs from PYL 2 will form PYL C.

The top four teams in each of the PYL  age divisions will contest a traditional finals series. 


At the start of the following season, the top four clubs from PYL B will join the eight clubs in PYL A to establish PYL 1.

The bottom four clubs in PYL B will join the eight clubs from PYL C to form PYL 2, prior to splitting into PYL A, B and C again halfway through the season.

This will give us two 12-team divisions for 2024.

Frequently asked questions

What are the main reasons for the change?

More than one in three matches in the NPL NNSW Youth have resulted in a win or loss by four goals or more over the last four years, with one in five ending with a six or more goal difference over the same time period. That is an average of almost 200 matches every season which are not competitive.

It is clear that there are too many non-competitive matches. These changes will assist with player development for aspiring future national teams players while also providing a valuable experience to players at the various abilities levels throughout our premier competitions.

This transition will increase the overall number of matches played and the number of competitive matches for all players, as well as more matches of Best v Best and Like v Like.

Do all clubs have to have a youth program and what about clubs that have not fielded all youth teams recently?

There are a number of criteria clubs are required to meet to be involved with the Premier Youth League, including fielding teams. Clubs will be required to field all teams in the competition, with a maximum of one season’s grace for a club, which will provide relief for a team leaving mid or pre-season. Clubs will not be permitted to start a second consecutive season without all teams. The other non-negotiable standards to be involved in Premier Youth League include:

  • Submitting and maintaining an approved Youth Development Plan
  • Meeting the minimum coaching criteria:
    • Head Coaches Minimum C-Licence
    • Technical Director Minimum C-Licence
  • Club budget submitted annually
  • Club fee imposed on players must be submitted and approved annually by NNSWF prior to publication
  • Access to a venue approved by NNSWF for youth fixtures throughout the traditional winter season as a minimum
  • Fully compliant with Working with Children Check legislation
  • Minimum Level 2 Sports Trainer attending youth matches

Clubs seeking to participate or continue participating in the NPL Men’s NNSW will be required to field the full complement of senior and youth teams. Northern League One Clubs can opt out of youth football on the basis that they accept that they are ineligible for promotion to the NPL Men’s NNSW. NNSWF is open to consultation regarding the inclusion of community clubs in the Premier Youth League that implement exceptional youth programs and meet the minimum requirements. There may also be opportunities for exceptional community clubs to play in the knockout cups and Summer Series.

Where do the under-18s fit in?

The under-18s competition will move to be part of the Premier Youth League in 2023. This age group primarily consists of 16 and 17-year-old players and has been identified by the Football Australia Technical Director as requiring more match time. Including the under-18s in the decoupled Premier Youth League achieves:

  • Significantly increasing the number of matches for players aged between 16 and 18-years-old
  • Provide players in this key age group with a variety of football and formats including knockout cups
  • Regional member zones may retain players for a further two years prior to seeking opportunities to play senior football
  • Afford clubs the opportunity to focus on senior matchdays consisting of two fixtures

NNSWF will provide a level of flexibility around the scheduling of the under-18s to allow clubs to have their under-18s be part of the senior matchday where possible and look to transition some senior specific rules such as substitution over interchange in this age group. We believe this will help prepare this age group for senior football while also providing the opportunity for the full suite of youth competitions.

On what basis are teams promoted or relegated?

Promotion and relegation will be decided on a club championship basis. All teams in a club’s Premier Youth League program will be awarded points for a win or a draw and a collective club championship table will maintain club positions.

Why on a club championship and not on an individual team basis?

Throughout the consultation process it was clear that the operational advantages of having the gala day style fixtures for youth teams was very important to clubs. The ability to have players play up, have greater oversight from the technical director and further match day support such as sports trainers, referees and duty officers would be impacted if a club’s youth teams were playing at multiple venues on the same day.

How will promotion and relegation work if we have another disrupted season like 2022?

NNSWF will endeavour to ensure that all league matches are played prior to the cut off for the transition into Premier Youth Leagues A, B and C. However, contingencies will be in place in the form of catch-up rounds or regulations which consider the points per game method as a last resort.

Where will my club start in 2023?

All teams competing in the 2022 NPL Youth program, plus newly promoted New Lambton FC, will start the season in Premier Youth League 1. All teams competing in the 2022 NL1 Youth program will start in Premier Youth League 2.

Do we always reset back to the old NPL and NL1 leagues to start the season?

No. The NPL/NL1 youth programs are being used as an initial starting point for the 2023 season only. Once the Premier Youth League competition begins, all clubs will be judged on the merit of their performances and ability to maintain the minimum required criteria.

How will finals work?

Premier Youth League A

  • As the clubs in Premier Youth League A will be the top eight in Premier Youth League 1, all points, goals and match information that were earned through PYL 1 will be retained. This will provide a truer reflection of each age group’s best team throughout an entire season. The top four finals series will be retained, meaning semi-finals will be contested between first v fourth and second v third for a place in the grand final.

Premier Youth League B

  • As some clubs will enter Premier Youth League B from a lower position in PYL 1 and some from higher positions in PYL 2, all points, goals and match information will be reset. This will allow all teams to compete on an even playing field for promotion and relegation. The top four final series will be retained, meaning semi-finals will be contested between first v fourth and second v third for a place in the grand final.

Premier Youth League C

  • For Premier Youth League C all points, goals and match information will be reset. This will allow all teams to compete against competitive opposition from an even start. The top four finals series will be retained, meaning semi-finals will be contested between first v fourth and second v third for a place in the grand final.
What is the Premier Youth League Cup (Knockout Cup)? How does it work?

The Premier Youth League Cup provides the opportunity to add a genuine knockout cup competition for youth football. Not only will it provide more opportunity for matches against quality opposition but it will also provide the learning opportunities that come with knockout style football including extra time and penalty shootouts. This will be an 11-a-side competition played under normal match conditions, in the format below:

  • A full cup draw, in a format similar to the Australia Cup (formerly FFA Cup), will be conducted for round one with club names pulled out. This will see all teams in a one club up against all teams from the club they are drawn against.
  • Individual team winners will advance to round two
  • Individual teams that lose their round one match will automatically be entered into the Premier Youth League Plate, in a similar manner to those who miss out on qualification for the UEFA Champions League, are entered into the UEFA Europa League draw.
  • From round two onwards, a draw will be conducted for individual age groups for both the Premier Youth League Cup and Premier Youth League Plate. Consideration will be given to drawing and scheduling matches involving regionally based teams.
  • It is envisaged that rounds one and two as a minimum would be played on dedicated cup weekends in the season calendar, with quarter finals and semi-finals played midweek, with a dedicated cup final day near the end of the season.

All clubs will be required to participate in the Premier Youth League Cup.

What is the Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup and how does it work?

The Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup will provide more structured football for players in the early part of the year and remove the burden on volunteers to organise trial matches, match officials and sanctioning and will be in place to supplement existing club pre-season programs.

The competition will run for between four and five weeks prior to the regular season which will be scheduled with some non-consecutive weeks to allow clubs to integrate their own targeted pre-season matches and activities. The competitions will be split into two – the Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup and Premier Youth League Pre-season Plate – to reduce the likelihood of non-competitive matches as follows:

  • Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup will be contested by the top 12 clubs based on the Club Championship from the previous season
  • Premier Youth League Pre-season Plate will be contested by the clubs 13th and below based on Club Championship from the previous season.

Once separated as above, each tournament would run on a Champions League/World Cup style tournament of three groups of four teams, with seeded pots used to balance the groups.

All clubs will play each other club in their group once, with all age groups from under-13s to 18s playing against each other. The winners of each group, plus the best placed runner-up will qualify for the semi-finals and will play off for a place in the Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup/Plate Final, noting that league positions and semi-finals/finals are based on each individual age groups and not club championship.

All clubs are required to participate in the Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup, noting that any clubs that may not have access to grounds may be required to play their fixtures at away grounds or Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility.

What is the Summer Series?

The Premier Youth League Summer Series is another addition to the youth football calendar and will be available to all Premier Youth League Clubs, with the opportunity for more structured football through the summer. The format is a more relaxed version of football available at a time when clubs are trialing new players and transitioning between age groups in preparation for the following season.

This will be an eight week, 9-a-side, half pitch competition which will provide a focal point for clubs post season and into the pre-season period of the annual youth development plan, with the smaller sided matches assisting with players playing multi sports, warmer temperatures and other availability issues. The variety in format also aligns with Football Australia’s recommendations around playing different size and formats of football.

At this stage the Premier Youth League Summer Series will be an opt-in competition, meaning clubs are strongly encouraged to, but will not be required to participate in 2023.

What is the impact on regionally based clubs (North Coast Football, Mid Coast FC and NIAS)?

Northern NSW Football are aware of the significant extra burden placed on players, parents and volunteers involved in regional clubs in NNSWF premier competitions. The burden of travel is significantly higher than those players residing in the Hunter Region, while the time commitment and costs associated with travel by coach or car are significant.

The introduction of the Premier Youth League provides an opportunity to help address this balance and provide an increased number of home matches for regionally based clubs to assist with cost and time commitments. The Premier Youth League will see the following introduced to help spread the travel burden throughout the competition:

  • All regional clubs’ Premier Youth League Pre-season Cup group stage matches will be scheduled at home
  • All regional clubs’ Premier Youth League Cup round one matches will be scheduled at home
  • A small number of extra league matches will be scheduled as home matches for regional clubs each season. The split of home and away matches will be closer to 65 per cent to 35 per cent rather than the traditional 50-50 split
  • NNSWF’s aim is to ensure that clubs do not play multiple league matches away at the same regional zone in consecutive years.

The introduction of under-18s to the Premier Youth League program will also allow regionally based players to remain involved in high level competition for a further two years at a critical time in their development.

Won’t this encourage mass player movement between squads when teams are relegated or promoted?

Prior to the decoupling issue being raised, mass player movement was raised as an issue by clubs to the point where specific trial periods, then guidelines were introduced for premier clubs to address the matter. NNSWF is of the opinion that mass player movement overall will not be impacted either positively or negatively.

It is acknowledged that should one club have an outlier team which is significantly better than most of their other teams, those players may seek to be a part of the top tier. However, for most teams that do not qualify for the top tier of competition, it is unlikely there will be mass player movement as this would in turn require the displacement of the players who were good enough to qualify for the top tier in their own right.

NNSWF can implement specific player registration dates for the competition if this does become an ongoing issue.

Will this encourage a focus on winning over development?

It is the opinion of the former NNSWF Technical Director and current Talented Player Development team that winning is a part of player development. Having players and coaches under pressure to execute their skills is important.

It is also clear for anyone involved in the current NPL or Northern League One competitions that the majority of coaches in premier football are already setting out to win every match.

This is also an issue which is very much in the clubs’ control in terms of the leadership and direction shown by the club and its technical director.

What if my club has one team who is significantly better or worse than the remaining teams in the program?

While this remains a possibility, recent years have shown that when broken into three groups of eight as per Premier Youth League A, B and C, the majority of teams within a club are ranked in the same group and outliers are rare. It is also noted that when a club has an outlier team, positively or negatively, this is generally due to a specific set of players and is not reflective of the ability of the club’s youth development program as a whole.

NNSWF is committed to monitoring this issue and subsequently consulting with clubs.

Does this mean the structure will change for senior football?

The new Premier Youth League competition has been created and will be maintained with the specific focus on youth players and youth development.

In conjunction with the decoupling of youth football, the NNSWF board have directed management to start consultation regarding the structure of senior competitions.

Now that youth football is decoupled from senior football, future discussion in relation to the senior league structure can now be conducted with a focus on senior football, without any negative impacts facing youth programs.

This consultation with key stakeholders would include areas such as league size and structure, the prospect of promotion and relegation for senior football and the potential to connect local senior competitions to Premier Competitions.

The potential creation of a functioning football pyramid in our NNSWF premier competitions is an exciting prospect and something NNSWF is committed to exploring.

What consultation has taken place?

In mid-2021, NNSWF established the Decoupling Working Group, which met five times over the consultation period. This group consisted of:

  • Senior NNSWF Technical & Football Operations Staff
  • Football Australia
  • NPL & NL1 Standing Committee Chairs
  • NPL & NL1 Technical Directors
  • NPL & NL1 Club Administrators

The consultation process, which concluded with a joint meeting of the NPL and Northern League Standing Committees, has been critical to providing an outcome which considers not only the talented player development priorities but also the operational impacts at club level and expectations of parents within the current premier competitions.

Will the Premier Youth Leagues cost more to play in?

Clubs and inevitably players will be required to meet additional costs directly attributed to additional matches such as referee fees and venue utilisation fees. NNSWF’s Board of Directors determines the member federation fee imposed on players and the competition fee imposed on participating clubs in November annually.

Opening up participation in the top tier of youth football to all premier clubs regardless of which competition their senior teams compete should facilitate competition. Young players will no longer be required to move clubs and potentially pay a higher participation fee to play in the top youth competition.

What impact does this have on JDL?

A separate review of the JDL will be undertaken later this year and the implementation of the Premier Youth League structure for under-13s and above will not have a direct impact on the JDL program.

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Knockout Cup Round 2 Draw