Rugby league being taken seriously at Auckland Grammar? Not really, says outgoing headmaster John Morris but he admits he is happy to have a team from his bastion of secondary school rugby playing at next month's NZRL tournament.
The ever-growing popularity of the 13-a-side code is reflected in a dramatic increase in the number of teams for the September 3-7 tournament at Papakura's Bruce Pulman Park.
Organisers opted for an increase from 16 to 24 teams but quickly found they fell short of predicted interest saying it was a "nice position for the game to finally be in".
Auckland Grammar will play in the eight-team competition for developing schools while the top 16 teams will contest the premiership.
"None of our 1st XV players will be involved as they have had a pretty tough season," said Morris. "We have got huge numbers of boys who want to play league and I'm happy for them to do so in a one-off tournament like this.
"It is not the first time a team from Auckland Grammar has played rugby league. About 10-15 years ago we had a team in the Auckland competition which is played on a Wednesday after school. Too often the games finished when it was dark so we did not continue."
Morris pointed out his school already has had players going from their 1st XV to the Warriors with Konrad Hurrell and Omar Slaimankhel the most recent converts.
"Warriors' scouts come to all 1st XV games but you never see anyone from the Auckland Rugby Union," said Morris. "Last year we had four old boys in the Junior Warriors."
Dain Guttenbeil, general manager for community development at the NZRL, called on Morris to invite the school to the tournament which is played during the annual winter tournament week.
"I was happy enough to give him the okay and Brent Denny is taking the team. They don't want to get into a battle with rugby so we will just sit back and see how it plays out."
AGS will play Central Southland College (from Winton and the team travelling the longest distance to take part) in their opening game.
As well as the competitive aspect to the tournament, the NZRL make a big deal of their "More than just a game" elements of the tournament which entails having former Kiwis at a position-specific coaching clinic involving players from all schools at 2pm on the Tuesday.
Among those who will work with the players are Awen Guttenbeil, Richie Barnett, Jerry Seuseu, Duane Mann, Stacey Jones, Ruben Wiki and Tony Kemp.
AGS, KBHS, MAGS, Onehunga High, Otahuhu College, Tamaki College and Tangaroa College, seven of the 12 Auckland schools in the 1A 1st XV rugby championship, have entered the league tournament.
Captained by fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Otahuhu College beat perennial favourites St Pauls in extra time in last year's final. Tuivasa-Sheck consequently signed with the Sydney Roosters and has already made his first grade debut.
Last year the tournament received an "Innovation Award" from the NZ Secondary Schools Sports Council for the "More than just a game" element.
A decisive 63-45 win over Carmel College at the North Shore Events Centre ensured back-to-back North Harbour premier girls titles for Kristin School. The win came after twice losing to their rivals during the regular season.
"We had our backs to the wall going in but the girls rose to the challenge, especially in the second half, "said Kristin's director of sport Cherry Webster. "It is to their credit that they came away with an eighteen-point win."
"In Sarah Strom and Habiba Tawfik we have two very experienced players who have provided great leadership," said Webster. "It has been a huge asset to have Amanda Harris take on the coaching role this year. Her competitive experience of playing at the top levels of New Zealand basketball is something all the girls admire and aspire to."
The victory was the school's third in four years.
Kristin's premier boys had a convincing 69-50 win over Glenfield College in their final game to claim third place in their competition.
MAGS and Baradene go head-to-head tonight for the two plums in Auckland SS netball.
The two schools have won through to the premier and senior A finals which will be played indoors at the Auckland Netball Centre as the culmination of a hectic season.
MAGS will go in as favourites to retain their title having handed Baradene one of their two losses in winning 43-26 earlier this month.
After completing their round-robin unbeaten with a 40-25 win over EGGS and beating the same team by a crushing 55-14 in Saturday's semifinal, MAGS will start tonight's final as the hottest of favourites.
Baradene won through to the season's showpiece with a hard-fought 33-30 semifinal win over McAuley - a team now coached by Raewyn Henry. McAuley's late-season rally took them into second equal place with Baradene - the teams finished with identical nine-win, two-loss and the same points differential.
MAGS will be without Nadia Loveday who is in Melbourne with the New Zealand under-21 team but in using all players in the semifinal romp there should be more than enough cover.
The senior A final promises to be closer. Baradene lost only one game all season and scored a 10-point win over Massey in the 2nd v 3rd semifinal.
Auckland: St Kentigern retained their 1A title in style at Eden Park with an emphatic 22-7 win over AGS. The victory completed an unbeaten season for St Kentigern who now await the winner of the WBHS v Whangarei BHS clash as they chase a place in next month's top four championship.
Dominating up front, St Kentigern stretched their unbeaten run to 25 matches as they took a huge advantage in the possession and territory stakes giving little away in rucks and mauls.
Morris conceded they were beaten by an in-form team but pointed out most of this team will be back next year looking to go one better.
North Harbour: Westlake BHS beat neighbours Rosmini 26-12 in front of a raucous 5000-strong crowd at North Harbour Stadium to claim the 1A championship.
The age old rivalry was set to be an intense battle but proved to not have quite the intensity many were expecting.
At the after match function, captain Josh Fraser stated their next goals are to "win the next two games (in the regional play-offs) and make history".
Westlake will play Northland champions Whangarei Boys High in the next few days Takapuna Grammar will play Kamo High in the co-ed playoff. The winning teams will then face the Auckland open champion St Kentigern College and the co-ed top qualifier Onehunga High on September 1 for a place in the national top four competition.
Waikato: Cambridge High School has claimed the Secondary Schools' 1st XV championship beating St Johns College 21-20 in the final.
The match was a thrilling encounter right to the final whistle and both sides had their chances to win. St Johns led 13-7 at halftime but Cambridge gained ascendancy in the second half and eventually outscored St Johns three tries to two.
With his shrewd tactical judgement, Cambridge's No10 Chris Brunswick was the key factor in his side's second spell revival.
For St John's, captain Ben Greene secured a lot of quality possession for his school at lineout time, while halfback Dylan Bower and first-five Sam Cooper read play well to get their side in to attacking mode at every opportunity, but the day belonged to Cambridge High.
The premier title has gone to the wire with three teams in contention in a fascinating finale to the 14-match season but defending champions MAGS is not one of them.
Sacred Heart, 1-0 home winners over AGS in their penultimate outing, head into Saturday's round with a one-point lead and, on paper, the easiest task with a home game against second-to-bottom TGS.
WBHS and St Kentigern, a point back, meet in the match of the round. Should Sacred Heart trip up and Westlake and St Kentigern draw, Westlake would snatch the title on goal difference.
St Kentigern warmed up for the task with a 8-1 home win over TGS while WBHS kept their hopes alive with a come-from-behind 3-2 away win over MAGS. In a minor surprise, Rangitoto continued their late season rally with a 4-1 home win over KBHS.
In another key match on Saturday, AGS are at home to Rangitoto.
Should Rangitoto and TGS win, AGS would find themselves in foreign territory - faced with a game to stave off relegation.
MAGS coach Kevin Fallon, after watching his team go to the break 0-0 with visiting Westlake, was more than happy as his charges quickly went 2-0 ahead.
By the end that joy had turned to despair as the visitors hit back scoring three goals.
The first an own goal after 66 minutes, the second in the 90th minute from Blair Whitlock and deep into stoppage time a close range strike after the ball dropped inside the six-yard line from a corner.
The final whistle brought an end to a dramatic match.
Westlake coach Miroslav Nikolic praised the home team. "MAGS played some wonderful football," he said. "But that's football. It's a strange game."
Fallon was lost for words after a rare second successive defeat.
"We still have a lot to play for," he said. "The nationals are looming and we return from them to a cup final. We don't want a season where we are empty-handed."
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