Under-20s competition key to luring union stars

BRAD WALTER
Last updated 08:50 12/08/2014
Konrad Hurrell
Getty
UNION MAN: Warriors sensation Konrad Hurrell made his name playing for the Auckland Grammar's 1st XV.

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The scrapping of the under-20s National Youth Competiton would impact heavily on the ability of clubs to convince New Zealand schoolboy rugby union stars to follow the lead of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Konrad Hurrell and switch codes.

While some within the game believe the Holden Cup is too expensive and does not provide the best development pathway to the NRL, the profile of the competition has been a valuable recruitment tool for luring young rugby union players to the Warriors and Australian-based clubs.

Tuivasa-Sheck represented the New Zealand rugby union schoolboys team in 2011 before joining the Sydney Roosters the following season, while Hurrell was signed by the Warriors the same year after being spotted playing for Auckland Grammar's 1st XV.

"One of the reasons Roger came across was for the opportunity to train full-time and play in that under-20s system, which rugby union here [in Australia] and in New Zealand can't offer," Roosters recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan said.

Rookie Warriors centre Ngani Laumape is another from a rugby union school in New Zealand now making his mark in the NRL after switching codes to play in the NYC competition, while the club's NSW Cup and under-20s teams have several other players recruited from the 15-man game.

With all of the Junior Warriors matches televised in New Zealand, the profile of the under-20s competition is a strong lure for young players choosing between the rival codes.

"There has been a few kids who have obviously been wooed by the under-20s competition and the profile that the under-20s competition gets does help in trying to win the hearts of those young players," NZRL high performance general manager Tony Iro said.

"Rugby union is always going to be the No.1 game here but it has certainly had its desired impact in giving our game some profile and especially highlighting the pathway for those up-and-coming kids."

Former Warriors fullback Omar Slaimankhel, who plays rugby union in Japan, also went to Auckland Grammar and was instrumental in convincing Hurrell to switch codes, while Laumape attended Palmerston North Boys' High and was a New Zealand schoolboys rugby union representative.

Outside backs Solomone Kata, who played for the Warriors in this year's NRL Nines, and Ngataua Hukatai - another New Zealand schoolboys representative from one of the country's poshest schools, Kings College - and prop Albert Vete, who was captain of St Kentigern College's 1st XV, are playing in the NSW Cup but all are still eligible for the under 20s.

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"Obviously the Warriors would be the club that would be most effected by any change to the under-20s competition and from a New Zealand perspective we have to make sure we keep a pathway open for our best kids so that the NRL is still an option for them," Iro said.

Auckland Grammar coach Alistair Patterson, who spotted Hurrell playing union for Tonga, told Fairfax Media soon after the hulking centre joined the Warriors that he would have been a star in either code but had no problems with him playing NRL.

"The Junior Warriors, that competition they play in is just outstanding," Patterson said.

"He made the right decision. The Warriors were keen to help him out and we had no issues with him going to league."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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