NRL clash to spark revival
When Sunday’s NRL Summer Smash trial match between the NZ Warriors and Gold Coast Titans kicks off at CET Arena, there will be scores of young fans joining them on the park.
The third of three ‘‘stadiumfilling’’ events following the Nitro Circus and Superstock Teams challenge, the Summer Smash weekend also sees the launch of a new junior rugby league development programme.
The weekend will culminate when Keen Kiwi Minimod teams play during the half-time break in the curtain-raiser between the Royal New Zealand Air Force and New Zealand Army, and during the Warriors - Titans clash.
Concerned that there were no pathways to progress junior players into youth and premier grades, the former senior coach for the Linton Cobras and junior coach for Kia Ora juniors, Lawrence Erihe, has been rebuilding a junior player development pro- gramme from the ground up.
‘‘I don’t think there’s been anything here for junior grades for the last 20 years, so we’re putting it back together,’’ Erihe said.
Sunday’s 10-minute Minimod games in front of the NRL crowd was to showcase six central zone clubs.
‘‘We’ve created a 12-week programme for Manawatu junior, youth and senior league that runs from March 19 to June 25 and will finish off with a junior 9s tournament. In 2018 we hope to be able to make that a sustainable competition. At this point all I am trying to do is start it.’’
Saturday’s club registration day at CET Arena will coincide with the captain’s runs at 11am for the Warriors and 2pm for the Titans.
The youngsters will have the opportunity to meet stars from both teams, as well as take part in rounds of group games.
‘‘For me, it’s about providing an alternative and getting young kids to participate in a sport they only see on TV. It’s about giving them a positive experience,’’ Erihe said. ’’At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids.’’
Braxton Wilson-Clune, 11, from the Kia Ora Warriors and Takiora Honotapu, 9, from Tainui, were both looking forward to hopefully meeting NZ Warriors’ favourite Shaun Johnson.
While Braxton reckons the Warriors will win Sunday’s game, Takiora was picking the Titans because ‘‘They’re better’’.
Spinning the ball at Coronation Park are junior rugby league players (from left) Braxton Wilson-Clune 11, Takiora Honotapu 9, Cedric Uri-Erihe 6, and Shay Uri-Erihe 10.