Junior rugby league in Northland is flourishing after the implementation of new initiatives and rule changes that have moved the focus from winning to developing the skills of young players and their enjoyment of the game.
Parents and coaches alike are acknowledging initiatives like the recent "Don't be an Egg" campaign promoting positive feedback from the sidelines.
Te Hirini-Mei Natana says, "Yes I'm one of those who used to shout from the sidelines but I've realised it's important to take a step back and allow the game to play. And what's most important is the love of the game and supporting our son and whether it's rain hail or sunshine we are here."
Now in their third year since forming the Manaia Mako Rugby League Club is flourishing.
Club President Caleb Piggott says, "Every year we've pretty much doubled our numbers and now we've got four teams in the grade. We're just a junior rugby league club and its all about the kids and our whānau has grown and that's why it's grown because its that whanau feeling where everyone wants to come together and just have fun and thats what its all about."
Hikurangi Stags junior coach Steven Beazley says the focus has changed, "Its about the kids giving the parents an opportunity to let them shine and have fun out there and develop their skills in catching and passing and playing the ball and tackling and coming away with a smile and everyone's a winner on the day."
Rugby League Northlands' General Manager Duane Fyfe says, "They're kids they're gonna be competitive but we don't have a scoring system here. Kids want to know who wins the game but they know within themselves. So that way it makes it more our safe code play which is very important for us."
Te Hirini-Mei Natana adds, "There are more and more kids now coming to rugby league so perhaps in the years to come we shall see them playing for the Warriors in the NRL. That's the big picture and we just need support and encourage them to reach the top echelons of the game."