NZRL delving into detail on young talent, with new structure for high performance camp
New Zealand Rugby League are looking for every extra edge they can in their investment in young talent, and next week's newly-structured high performance camp will highlight it.
It might be the holidays, but St Peter's School will be abuzz, as 80 of the country's most promising players descend on the premises. Having previously been held in Rotorua, in July, the camp for under-16s and under-18s has been brought forward earlier in the year, and been shifted to Cambridge to make use of the quality facilities on offer at the school - which saves time travelling between venues and allows more content to be squashed in.
With the governing body holding their under-15 and under-17 youth tournaments in September, they felt the nine-month gap between that and the following year's performance camp was too large, so have now tightened that to six months, and have communicated with the players the sort of standards they need to be at when they enter the camp.
NZRL national talent manager David McMeeken said hopefully holding the camp earlier would allow them to see players at peak condition.
"When you get to July time you've got finals, so players would be more focused on that, or maybe injured at that time because they've played so many games already," he said, adding that they were also trying to be smarter with the collecting and tracking of players' information.
"And then actually do something with that information as well, so working with the zones and the districts, and keeping them up to date with their players, where they are, what they're playing etc. So we've gone down to even the finer detail of their agent, their agent's contact details, their club, their school."
Running from Tuesday to Friday, the players will be put through rugby league-specific fitness tests, field sessions, and seminars pertaining to careers in the game, with the camp to culminate in trial matches, and teams to be selected later in the year for representative fixtures.
The 16s' last representative game was in 2014, but in the July school holidays they will play the NZ Maori under-17s in Rotorua, while the under-18s will play the Taurahere team - NZ junior players based in Australia (with that side to also feature a mix of Warriors young talent which can't make the camp) - in Auckland in September. Off the back of that an 18s team will be selected to face Australian Schoolboys in two tests in September, in Rotorua and Auckland.
The camp will feature plenty of former top players, with Nigel Vagana - who earlier this year took up the role of NZRL well-being and education manager - joined by Tony Iro, Ali Lauitiiti, Francis Meli and David Faiumu, where the players will get position-specific coaching from those who have been there before, along with talks on things like 'personal brand', 'nutrition', 'resilience', and one for the parents schooling them on what their children will go through in pursuing an NRL career.
"The theme throughout the camp is ex-Kiwi players giving back to the game," McMeeken said.
"It just adds value and a bit more prestige to it, I believe."
While the camp is a closed one over the first three days, the NZRL open the doors on the final day, where Australian schools scouts and the likes of player managers can come and watch. Though it's through a controlled, signed-in, environment.
"We're not trying to discourage the players from going over to Australia, but we'd like them to stay here for as long as possible before making the move over the ditch," McMeeken said.
"We need to be able to offer a sustainable competition or framework for these boys, and this camp is the first instance of that."