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International Rugby League heads to Whangarei

League Photo.

Kouma Samson. NZ Resident 18s v Australia Secondary Schools, Bruce Pulman Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 8 October 2011. Photo: photosport.co.nz/courtesy of NZRL

Auckland, New Zealand, August 20, 2013 – International rugby league is heading to Whangarei with the announcement that the NZ Residents 16s and 18s teams will both play Australian sides at Toll Stadium on Monday, September 30.

The NZ Residents 16s play the Queensland Academy of Sport 16s, while the NZ Residents 18s meet the very strong Australian Schoolboys team.

“The Australians are always well-prepared,” says New Zealand Rugby League’s GM of Football & Community Dain Guttenbeil. “But our boys have been their equal in recent years and we’d expect these matches to again be tight.”

Last October, on Australia’s Gold Coast, the NZ Residents 16s beat the Queensland Academy of Sport 16s by 28-26. The Kiwi side was captained by Northland’s Kadince Christensen, who has since joined the Parramatta Eels.

The NZ Residents 18s last met the Australian Schoolboys in 2011. The teams won a match each in a series played at Bruce Pulman Park in Papakura. The Australian side included future NRL players like David Klemmer (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Curtis Sironen (Wests Tigers). The Australian Schoolboys team has consistently been a stepping stone to the top, with its former players including Greg Inglis, Israel Folau and Feleti Mateo.

The NZ squads for the matches in Whangarei won’t be named until September 9, but Northland players in contention include Taui Arona in the 16s, along with Joachim Edmonds, James Dean Fisher-Harris, Tumoana Halkyard and Corey Naera in the 18s. All five were selected for the NZRL’s National Performance Camp in July, continuing an upward trend for Rugby League Northland, as the Zone’s GM Alex Smits explains.

“It’s great to be able to host such a prestigious event in Northland - especially one that highlights the pathway for our youth,” says Smits. “This day adds to the momentum that’s building in Northland rugby league, with our playing numbers having doubled in 2013.”

September 30 at Toll Stadium will be a celebration of rugby league, with a youth event at the events centre earlier in the day featuring an activities-based workshop looking at leadership, values and careers. Local youth can engage there with the NZRL, the NRL and local bodies such as NorthTec, while exploring pathways and opportunities through sport. They’ll also be able to stay on free-of-charge for the games.

Gates for the youth event open at 1.15pm with entry to the matches from 4.00pm. The 16s match kicks-off at 4.30pm with the 18s game at 6pm.

Toll Stadium and the Whangarei District Council are providing support to hosting and attracting these matches and the youth event to Whangarei. They see this as an important initiative in supporting rugby league and the youth within their community. Both parties recognise the significant social and economic benefits that events bring to the district and are proud to be associated with the NZRL and Rugby League Northland in striving to grow the sport within the region.

Whangarei will also host the opening match in the NZRL’s Pirtek National Premiership this weekend. The competition, which features the senior teams from the NZRL’s seven zones, kicks-off at 1pm on Sunday, August 25, with a match between the Northern Swords and the Canterbury Bulls at Toll Stadium.

Each week, one match from the Pirtek National Premiership will be televised live on SKY Sport. The Northern Swords have the TV game on Monday, October 7, when they meet the Wellington Orcas at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium. Coverage starts on SKY Sport 2 from 7.30pm.

Meanwhile, three Northland schools have been selected to play in the NZRL’s National Secondary Schools’ Tournament which runs September 2-6 at Bruce Pulman Park in Papakura. Kaitaia College and Kamo High School will represent the region in the 16-team Premiership grade, while Whangarei Boys' High School is in the eight-school Developing grade.