THE Southland District Rugby League has been able to grow its junior competition from nothing to almost 180 players in the space of just three years.
Three years ago, Amanda Karetai had a child who wanted to have a crack at playing rugby league. Through family and friends, she was able to help muster 30 players to put together a small competition.
Last year that number doubled and this year about 180 players took part.
Grades stretched from under-8 up to under-13 and games were played each Sunday morning from August 25 through to last Sunday in a condensed five-week competition played after the various junior rugby union competitions had finished.
Karetai said rugby league would not be able to compete with rugby union so the best way to get a junior league competition off the ground was to avoid a clash and create a short competition.
Included this year was an under-13 team made up of all girls. That team is now preparing to take on Otago, while a Southland under-13 boys’ team was selected from the five-week club competition and will also play a game against Otago.
The final round of games was played last Sunday and to add to the occasion former Kiwis and NRL player Nigel Vagana was on hand to mix with the kids.
Vagana is now New Zealand Rugby League’s well-being and education manager.
Meanwhile, Chee Turuwhenua was the big winner at the Southland Rams’ prize-giving on Sunday night, which Vagana also attended.
The Rams play in the senior South Island competition and while they came up short of a South Island title this year the season was still an encouraging one.
Turuwhenua was named both the player of the year and the player’s player of the year, which is voted by his peers.
Medals were given to each of the players while different volunteers were also given medals for their contribution during the season. Included was photographer Dave Loudon, who has helped cover rugby league for the Southland Express.
SOUTHLAND RAMS 2018 AWARDS
Rams man of the year : Zane Harris – Team Masseur
Volunteer of the year : Josh Gough – Trainer
Rookie of the year : Nehemiah Fa’Amoe Ioane
Most Improved player of the year : Bjay Karetai
Forward of the year : Daniel Low
Back of the year : Ramera Chambers
Most Valuable player : Dylan Lovett
Player of the year : Chee Turuwhenua
Players player : Chee Turuwhenua
Managers trophy : Junior Toparea