Rotorua's Puketawhero Park welcomes the next generation of league super stars this week as it plays host to the North Island Districts Tournament.
The annual event includes under-13, under-15 and under-17 boys' tournaments and under-15 and under-17 girls' tournaments. All together, this year's tournament has attracted 23 teams from Northland, Hauraki, Gisborne Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Coastline, Waikato, Manawatu and Taranaki.
The under-13 tournaments are played on Monday and Tuesday while the rest get under way tomorrowand wrap up with finals on Friday.
New Zealand Rugby League Upper Central Zone operations manager Hamana Amoamo said the tournament was all about young league players enjoying themselves and creating happy memories.
"It's an opportunity for young kids from all over the North Island to get together in one place, at a good venue, and just get out there on the field and throw the ball around.
"For us at NZRL, this age group is about giving the kids good experiences, we're not playing for sheep stations. At this level, grassroots level, it's league in its purest form.
"The pay back for us is the smiles on the kids faces. I remember when I was playing, I never remembered the scores but I remember the friends I made as a kid and you keep a lot of those ties throughout your adult life."
While the key message to the players is to have fun, the tournament also plays a role in helping NZRL and other organisations identify talent. Several NRL club scouts, including the Warriors women's coach Luisa Avaiki, will be in attendance during the week.
"We feel this tournament provides opportunities for a wider group of our youth outside of the major centers to compete at a representative level on their personal pathway," Amoamo said.
"It plays a critical role in the identification of our up and coming players, team management and referees. In recognition of individual talent and team success, we will be naming a Merit Tournament Team, along with the Player of the Tournament, Best Forward and Best Back for each grade. A Best Referee award will also be selected.
"It's a good chance for these boys and girls to get noticed by NRL agents."
The number of under-17 girls teams has doubled this year with Manawatu and Taranaki joining Bay of Plenty and Waikato. Amoamo said the skill level in both the girls' and boys' tournaments was improving all the time.
"I've been in Australia for the last 30 years with the New South Wales Rugby League Academy and to come home and see the skill level they've got, which I know is on a shoestring budget, it's a credit to the coaches and volunteers we have here.
"The girls' game has taken off in recent years and is one of the fastest growing spaces in our game as is evident in the entries this year."
He said the tournament would not happen without a group of dedicated volunteers.
"You've got awesome volunteers taking time away from their families and work to bring these kids here. The referees especially, I can't give them enough props because they've all taken time off work to come down here."
North Island Districts tournament
When: Under-13 boys' - Yesterday and today. Under-15 and under-17 boys' and girls' - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.
Where: Puketawhero Park.
Who: Teams from Northland, Hauraki, Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Coastline, Waikato, Manawatu and Taranaki.