A ‘major player’ 25 years on

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Leading Southland touch player Brad Kooman in action for the New Zealand under-20 mixed team against Australia this year.

TWENTY-FIVE years after Touch Southland was born, the organisation remains a major player in the Southland sporting scene, despite some challenges. LOGAN SAVORY reports.

Touch Southland regional manager Warren Bryant concedes that trying to retain sporting numbers in the current climate is tough.

In 1993 when Touch Southland was first established, it was the fresh face on the sporting scene.

Touch was a new and hip sport which people, in particular adults, flocked to.

Twenty-five years on Bryant believes the scrap between sports is as intense as ever and it has provided touch with challenges.

The pool of potential participants has remained the same, but the tug of war in trying to secure those players is a lot more fierce.

Bryant alluded to sports getting more and more creative in ways to attract people as they rip up the handbook and come up with more appealing versions of their sports.

Football’s futsal buzz provides a shining example.

Basketball also has the Steven Adams’ effect to hang its hat on as it continues to register impressive growth in numbers.

Added to all that is the blurring of lines between summer and winter sports.

“There is a lot more pressure on sports now,” Bryant said.

But despite all of that, 25 years on touch remains a major player in the Southland sporting scene.

Last year it could lay claim to about 5000 players, with the sort of numbers which were the envy of many other sports.

Included in those numbers was the Queenstown modules.

During the formation of Touch Southland, Queenstown fell under the Southland umbrella, given it was situated in the Community Trust of Southland catchment, or Community Trust South which it was renamed last week.

The boom period for Touch Southland was during the 90s and early 2000s through the business house competitions.

Touch Southland chairman John Evans said Southland businesses formed teams, or at least supported groups which wanted to put a team together to play.

That was where touch initially made its name in Southland.

“We had very big business house numbers, probably up to the global financial crisis (in 2008) when businesses probably didn’t have the money to sponsor teams like they had,” Evans said.

Bryant confirmed the number of adults playing touch in Southland had dropped, but that was offset by the fact its primary school numbers had shot up.

Each Wednesday afternoon during the summer, about 1000 Invercargill primary school kids converged on Turnbull Thomson Park to play.

“We have put a real focus on primary schools and also our rep teams. We probably haven’t had the same push with the adults, that is something we might need to look at,” Bryant said.

Evans believed the sport was in a good position to embrace the changing nature of sport and continue to build on the numbers it had at the moment.

He said there was a push nationally to get families active through playing sport in a social setting.

The fact touch was a non-contact sport which required little set-up and equipment meant it suited that quest by national sporting officials, Evans said.

While touch remained a big participation sport, the quest for representative success has continued to bubble away and the results have followed.

Last year Touch Southland sent an impressive 22 teams to the interprovincial tournament in Christchurch.

Over the past 25 years Southland has managed to bag seven national titles, defying the population statistics in comparison with other provinces.

The list of national representatives over that 25-year period was also long.

The most recent were Kate Day and Patrica Hopcroft, who both played for the New Zealand open women’s team this year.

Brad Kooman was also part of the New Zealand under-20 mixed touch team which attended the Youth World Cup. The team was coached by Southland’s Dennis Thompson, who has had a long association with the sport.

Last year Touch Southland and Rugby Southland announced a partnership where the two sports would align in certain areas.

Bryant said that was a partnership which he was keen to develop further.

It has included Scott Eade spending the summer months as a Touch Southland development officer and the winter months as Rugby Southland’s women’s development officer.

Both sports are trying to grow their respective female games and Bryant said the relationship worked well for both of them in that quest.

Many rugby players initially established their skills as touch players – Alena Saili, Tane Puki, Scott Eade, Bryan Milne, Greg Dyer and Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu to name a few.

The 2018-19 Touch Southland season will start next Thursday with the Invercargill adult module.

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