Young New Zealand players will benefit significantly from a major revamp of the Vodafone Warriors’ pathways model announced today.
It sees the Vodafone Warriors expanding their Future Warriors Programme (FWP) by moving away from the Jersey Flegg Cup (under-20s) to have a team in the New South Wales Rugby League’s prestigious SG Ball Cup (under-18s) from 2020.
Vodafone Warriors general manager football Brian Smith said the change had come about after an extensive review of the club’s development programme and preliminary discussions with both the ARL and the New Zealand Rugby League about the game’s future direction.
“The major outcome was the need to provide better opportunities to identify, retain and develop players at a younger age to ensure we have a much-improved and cohesive pathways model,” he said.
“We have worked jointly with the ARL and NZRL to find a new and exciting way to produce the best plan.
“This is the first step in improving the participation and pathway for New Zealand youngsters as we recognise the need to adjust to current circumstances and to create opportunities for our club to compete and defeat our rivals in the long term.”
The SG Ball Cup, historically the breeding ground for many of the game’s best players in New South Wales, is a short-form competition which begins in mid-February, finishing with the grand final in early May.
“This is a perfect window in the season for our players here in New Zealand and gives our youngsters an earlier experience of representative football to recognise the highest standards required in development,” said Smith.
“At the same time, we’re really keen to combine with the ARL and NZRL in exploring the possibilities of creating complementary competitions to provide additional opportunities for all young players.”
The Future Warriors Programme is tailored to begin for some players at the age of 15 when they will have the opportunity to develop their talents together at Mount Smart Stadium in short one or two-day camps, some internal representative matches, proposed tours to Australia and training at home with their individual programmes.
“Working with head coach Stephen Kearney’s team of coaches and staff through age specific physical development plans, nutritional guidance, physiotherapy and education in injury prevention, this programme will give every young player the fullest opportunity to enhance his or her talents in a compete and develop at your own speed format,” said Smith.
“Our identification and development of talented players in our FWP never really stops. We are always looking across the whole of New Zealand and at all age groups and we will now step that up to the next level. It’s never too late to join our club.”
Smith said the Vodafone Warriors were excited about the possibilities the changes have created.
“This provides a wonderful opportunity to further enhance pathways for players from rugby league and rugby union – both men and women – all the way from early teens through to the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL and WNRL squads,” he said.
Smith said the club was excited about continuing to work in player development and participation with the ARL and NZRL.