The inaugural Dean Bell Cup and Shaun Johnson Shield youth competitions are just a week away from their grand finals.
The semi-finals in the ground-breaking under-18 (Dean Bell Cup) and under-16 (Shaun Johnson Shield) championships will be played at Cornwall Park in Auckland this weekend.
Both former Bell, the Warriors' foundation captain in 1995, and Johnson, now back with the club, are passionate supporters of the competitions which provide a new pathway for local youth players.
Spearheaded by the Auckland Rugby League, the initiative has been a collaborative undertaking between the ARL, the Sky Sport Future Warriors Academy and the New Zealand Rugby League.
Two rounds have been played in each age group so far showcasing outstanding talent from the four Auckland regional teams as well as Waikato Mana and the Northern Swords.
“Most players involved have had an opportunity to not just play against other talent and but to also travel to another part of New Zealand,” said Sky Sport Future Warriors Academy manager Athens Henare.
“For these adolescents it’s been a long time since they have played so it has been hugely beneficial for them.”
The ARL, the Vodafone Warriors and the NZRL are hopeful of establishing the competitions as annual highlights on the rugby league calendar. The March-April window is similar to that used for the New South Wales Rugby League’s renowned breeding grounds the S G Ball Cup (under-18) and Harold Matthews Cup (under-16). These competitions have been running for many years, the Harold Matthews Cup since 1970 and S G Ball Cup since 1965.
“This has been an exciting start for an annual ARL competition that will allow our youth to participate in a pathway for New Zealand players,” said Henare.
“The competition will enable players to remain in New Zealand with their whānau, within their own communities and their local schools for a New Zealand education.
“On behalf of the Vodafone Warriors, we acknowledge and thank the Auckland Rugby League, Northern Swords and Waikato Mana for organising their teams and management that have supported their local rugby league communities.
“The Dean Bell Cup and Shaun Johnson Shield competitions are going to be around for a long time.”
Both grand finals will be played at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, April 2, well timed with crowds now able to return for outdoor events.
Saturday, March 26
Cornwall Park, Auckland
12.00pm | Shaun Johnson Shield (under-16) | Tāmaki ki te Raki (Auckland North) v Tāmaki ki te Rāwhiti (Auckland East)
2.00pm | Dean Bell Cup (under-18) | Tāmaki ki te Raki v Tāmaki ki te Rawhiti
Sunday, March 27
Cornwall Park, Auckland
12.00pm | Shaun Johnson Shield (under-16) | Tāmaki ki te Uru v Tāmaki ki te Tonga
2.00pm | Dean Bell Cup (under-18) | Tāmaki ki te Uru v Tāmaki ki te Tonga