College rugby league in Auckland is about to go through a dramatic change with the starting up of the Warriors Cup.
First XIII league has always been in the shadows of first XV rugby, but a new Auckland Rugby League initiative, which is backed by Warriors legend Stacey Jones, will see more schools play the 13-man code.
The NZRU announced last week that one of their priorities this year is to make rugby the sport of choice for youngsters in Auckland, but this isn't something league is taking lying down.
The ARL is already well under way in its plans to sign up schools for the Warriors Cup, which will see around 18 schools play in a midweek competition between May 8 and August 7.
Jones, who is now the Warriors' junior recruitment and pathways coach, says the new competition is a great way for him to spot young talent.
"For my role this is huge," Jones told Sunday News. "I can get out and watch players that don't play for a club. This is another window to see more talent."
With rugby the dominant sport in Auckland schools, whenever a young player goes on to make the transition into league there is always period where they have to find their feet.
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Up-and-coming Warriors players Ngataua Hukatai and Albert Vete both played for the New Zealand Schoolboys rugby side in 2011, while Abraham Papalii spent a year playing rugby in Wales before coming to the Warriors.
Jones believes getting youngsters into a league environment at an early age can only be beneficial and he is getting a good response from schools interested in signing up for the competition.
"From our initial meetings there has been a lot of interest from schools that have played league in the past, haven't been interested in the last few years, but are now keen to get involved again," he said.
"Also, there are some new schools and we want to create a competition that gets some momentum in schools that have never played league before.
"We hope that with us coming on board we've created a bit of interest in the schools and instead of 15 players in a school wanting to play the game there might be 30 or 40."
While the Warriors look to benefit from the competition, there will be 15 NRL clubs on the other side of the Tasman rubbing their hands at the chance to see more New Zealand talent on display.
Jones realises this, but says it's important that the Warriors make sure they get the best young players.
"We are creating opportunities. We understand at the Warriors that we can't keep all of the talent here, but our thinking has got to be that we keep the best ones, so we can't let them slip through.
"If we are creating a competition that gets 15 other NRL scouts here then we're doing a good job, but we'll get the opportunity to see these kids every week, whereas they might get a smaller window.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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