The future looks bright for five Te Tai Tokerau touch rugby players.
Killarney Aekins, Lee Turner, Paul Turner, Bayleigh Bentley-Hape and Rivez Reihana are representing New Zealand across the ditch in Australia this week, a testament to the hard work behind the scenes which has helped lift the region's underdog tag in touch circles.
Te Tai Tokerau junior touch rugby teams competing at the Junior National Touch Championships created a lot of attention this year in winning the Under-15 and Under-17 mixed team events.
Joe Rau, who was named coach of the New Zealand Under-15 mixed team after his successful input with the Te Tai Tokerau teams, said having five Northland teens playing for New Zealand on the Gold Coast was an excellent outcome for the region.
"Five representatives is awesome for us, and they're all young, so the future's bright," Rau said. "People look up to them, kids look up to them and want to be like them, so it's been good."
Coming up against Australian champion state and school teams, as well as several indigenous sides this week, the New Zealand mixed Under-15 and Under-17 teams will be playing against some of Australasia's' best.
"Touch has played a big role in their lives ... a couple of them are involved with top rugby schools and even NRL clubs ... I'm very stoked. I've had a couple of them since they were 6 or 7 so they've done the hard yards. They're good kids, so hopefully the future bodes well for them ... "
Facing a busy schedule throughout their trip, Rau said the five up-and-comers' mettle will be well and truly tested.
"Out of 10 days, two days are training so there's eight days playing. They'll be playing in about four tournaments, they'll be going to schools to play games and playing in exhibition games and modules, so it's pretty full on."