For NZRL, rugby league 'more than a game'

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2014

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The marker generally hovers over the top 5 per cent when the success of sporting organisations is gauged.

That top 5 per cent is the elite in the sport whether those in that bracket win an Olympic gold medal or a world championship.

Those teams and those people are the ones that grab the headlines and pull on the strings that are attached to their particular sport's image.

For New Zealand Rugby League, they are no different, the general public fills out their report card based on what sort of performances the Kiwis can deliver.

If the Kiwis were to upset Australia in the Anzac test on May 2 in Sydney the NZRL will be showered with praise, however a thumping loss and many will look down their noses at the NZRL.

It can be that fickle.

However away from the bright lights of the Sonny-Bill Williams' and Shaun Johnson's of the game plenty of success can be found within rugby league in New Zealand at the moment.

The NZRL is making impressive inroads and lot of it happens without an oval ball in sight.

The NZRL has a catchline of "More than a Game" and it is a catchline they are delivering on.

They feel their sport can play a much bigger role for New Zealand than just trying to win the Four Nations in New Zealand this year or the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 2017.

Without wanting to generalise or upset the reality is that rugby league is a sport that often appeals to some of our strugglers within New Zealand.

Whether it be health issues, whether it's educational problems or in some cases a history of family violence.

Current NZRL chief executive Phil Holden is well aware of that and believes rugby league can, and is, playing a role in helping New Zealand outside of the game itself - hence the "More than a Game" phrase.

"We know that with certain sections of our playing community, in different parts of the country, they are challenged in all sorts of ways from a lifestyle perspective.

"We think we can make a real difference and some of the key central government agencies know that we can make a difference in terms of their lives.

"So we are partnering with them to deliver on the initiatives through the League 4 Life Foundation.

"That's really compelling."

The initiatives include using their national secondary schools' tournament each year as a chance to educate youngsters on various aspects of life in seminars held in between the games.

The NZRL partnered itself with the "It's Not OK" family violence programme.

They educated the secondary school rugby league players about the message and then sent those young players out to deliver the same message to primary schools in the south Auckland region.

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One of the NZRL's latest of partnerships is with the Ministry of Education.

The ministry had noticed that many Maori and Pacific Island children were under represented in early childhood education.

There was a feeling that as a result when those kids were introduced to school life they were disadvantaged and on the back foot from day one.

It prompted a pilot programme to be set up by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the NZRL, where two play-groups were formed at the Mangere and Otara rugby league clubs in Auckland.

"It has been such a success that the minister of education has agreed to expand that pilot programme to another four of five clubs and I'm pretty keen to see how we could do that nationally through the League 4 Life Foundation," Holden said.

- The Southland Times

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