Probably no-one understands the value of the 'Got A Trade?' NZRL National Youth Tournament better than Vodafone Warriors academy and pathways manager Duane Mann.
Over the past five years, the Auckland-based NRL club has progressed to four Holden Cup NYC grand finals, winning in 2010 and 2011. They face Brisbane Broncos for a third title on Sunday.
That success has been fuelled by the local talent unearthed at national competitions and performance camps run by New Zealand Rugby League. The brightest stars in this latest crop of Vodafone Junior Warriors – fullback Bradley Abbey, halfback Mason Lino, standoff Tui Lolohea and prop Sam Lisone – have all graduated from youth merit teams.
Mann has been a consistent side-line presence at NZRL development programmes this season, always hoping to uncover the next uncut diamond among the teenagers on show.
And he’s noticed he’s no longer alone.
“The good clubs have always had informal representation here,” he reflects.
“They’ve all got eyes and ears, but I’ve noticed it’s not just one recruitment officer from each club – they’re now coming in twos and threes.
“We’ve always seen these clubs at clinics and camps, but now they’re coming in through the front door.”
This week has proved particularly popular with the Australian scouts, as it offers the best of New Zealand's 15s and 17s players in the same spot for the first time, not to mention the NZ 18s squad also in camp. Feedback from the visiting Aussies is that the level of play at this tournament is higher than that available at their equivalent in Tamworth, New South Wales, earlier this year.
“It has been a good chance for us to see players from other areas, from Northland or Wai-Coa-Bay or Central Vipers or the South Island,” says Mann.
“The other valuable things for us have been a chance to talk to parents, and to build relationships with coaches and development officers.”
Mann is just a little cagey about the players he has spotted at Puketawhero Park. With so many rivals now around him, he understands that need to keep cards close to his chest.