An enthusiastic group of 80 top rugby league players aged 14 to 18 were put through a day of fitness testing and skills practice on Saturday.
The first of four training hubs in the Upper Central Zone was held at ASB Arena and Gordon Spratt Reserve. The players came from Gisborne, Hauraki, Bay of Plenty, Coastline and Waikato.
"The importance of today is to introduce a lot of our kids who are new to this sort of training," acting general manager Upper Central Zone, Mel Bennett, said.
"Some might view it as high performance but it is basically a baseline programme where they get to see how fit they are and to go home and work on it.
"Then they get tested back here on February 11th under the same conditions. It is an introduction to outside club footy, just a bit higher than rep footy and then branching out into the zone football.
"It is a good chance for them to meet their peers in their ages from all the different districts cause usually we just have camps once a year.
"With the extended growth of this programme having more athletes and more volunteers, the view is to hand it back to the districts next summer and they will get to run their own programmes."
Bennett says this is a great beginning for the athletes who all aspire to one day play in the NRL.
"It is an eye-opener for them really. We have some of the most experienced coaches here and some of the volunteers here tried to crack it in the NRL themselves. They were saying they wished they had something like this for them back in their time.
"Just getting the awareness out there and alluding to the pathway, at the next camp [in Cambridge December 17] we have Tony Iro from the Warriors coming in, Dave McMeeken the national talent manager from head office and Gary Peacham who is the national coaching manager.
"So there are not only pathways for the players but also for the coaches."
The Ruben Wiki Challenge Shield is a major event on the rugby league calendar for under-16 and under-18 age groups held in February and March.
For the first time a team representing Wai-Coa-Bay will compete against Akarana, Northland, Counties Manukau, Auckland Vulcans and Warriors Invitation.
Kobe Rodger, 16, was one of the 80 aspiring rugby league stars put through some rigorous testing on Saturday.
The Otumoetai Eels player says the training is part of the process to be selected for the Upper Central Zone team to compete in the Reuben Wiki Challenge.
"This is important to bring everyone together and to start now and grow our skills, get fitter, see where we are at and keep improving," Kobe said.
"It is also to see if players are working to their full potential and can actually play in this team.
"Players like me and others at Otumoetai Eels will hopefully be seen as leaders and help lead the squad."