A new age-group rugby development structure is on the horizon for Northland's young talent.
More than 100 under-19 players from across Northland will be exposed to the new structure, set to begin in 2019, which aimed to create a professional playing atmosphere within age-group rugby in the region.
The structure will begin with four groups of about a dozen male and female players between 16-18 years of age from each of the main sub-unions - Whangarei, Bay of Islands, Mangonui and Northern Wairoa/Rodney - being trained in a range of skills in a 10-week period before the rugby season starts.
The best of these players will be put into an apprentice group of 10-12 elite players to be given full strength and conditioning support as well as extensive tactical and technical training throughout the year. These players will be prepared for the U19 academy group the following year.
The structure would be the first of its kind in Northland, replacing the U19 academy already in place, and looked to fill the gap between junior rugby and Mitre 10 Cup level.
"If you have a look around the country now, a lot of high schools have got really good rugby programmes and they are almost like mini-academies, we are missing that in the region," Northland Rugby academy manager Josh Hamilton said.
"I don't think our younger players have been given the opportunity to be in a high-performance programme enough to learn things like values and ethics so that's what's been lacking."
The structure would teach players more about the value of nutrition and functional movement which would allow them to develop physically and mentally.
Hamilton said the new groups would take advantage of the players with raw talent in the region.
"Northland would be on par or above with most other provincial unions in terms of how much talent is out there. The natural raw talent, the variety of sports they play, it's pretty wonderful."
Hamilton hoped this programme would improve the region's local competitions and produce about two or three players who would make the New Zealand U20 camps.
He said players with less talent in other regions were benefiting because these professional structures allowed them to develop a lot faster and players from Northland were having to move away to join them.
"Just this year, I've noticed five or six 15- to 16-year-olds getting the opportunity to go to Auckland and Waikato on full scholarships."
He said this wasn't a problem as kids would move away for other reasons but he said he would like to see more players stay in Northland to experience the new structure.
Players will be selected for sub-union groups from nominations from clubs, schools, and coaches. People will be able to make nominations before Christmas and players will be confirmed early next year.
Northland Rugby Mitre 10 cup manager Brad Te Haara said using a nomination process would allow them to unearth hidden talent.
"We haven't got eyes everywhere so we are happy to do some homework on someone we don't know and or give someone a punt who we don't know if they've got some key things we're looking for."
Te Haara said with 3000 juniors playing rugby and the Taniwha performing well, Northland needed something in the middle to keep players in the region.
"Auckland has the best first XV competition in the world so if we have something in that space, that's going help kids want to stay because there's something for rugby in that space."
The programme was piloted last year with about 20 young players, some of which were selected for representative teams. Te Haara said it would take time before they could see the real benefit of the structure.
"We won't see the real fruits until the year after. It'll spread like wildfire that somethings there but the main purpose is not to stop kids going to Auckland and Hamilton, it's about the kids that are here and want to stay."
For more information on how to nominate a player, contact your local club or contact Northland Rugby.