Mental health will be a key focus for Northland Rugby Union's new north zone rugby academy unveiled in Kaitaia on Monday.
The intention to prioritise players' mental health was one of many mandates delivered by north zone academy manager Joshua Hyde in a presentation to a large crowd of Northland's rugby community at the unveiling at Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre.
Prominent figures in the crowd included Northland Mitre 10 Cup coach George Konia, Northland Farah Palmer Cup coach Cheryl Smith, Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore and members of the Northland Rugby Union board.
The academy would be based out of Kaitaia gym Club Physical, where players would do the bulk of their gym work in tandem with their on-field trainings. Plans for an under-19 south zone academy in Whangārei will be unveiled today.
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The academy would provide a base for the large selection of primarily female rugby players in the Far North region, as well as 15 players selected for the high performance programme - Colt Edwards, Raymond Rakete, TJ Waitai, Tyler Nankivell, Rangimarie Chapman-Barber, Helen Kapa, Puru Aboagye, Oliver Hilton-Jones, Tane King, Manaia Webb, Leilani Erwin, Ngapuhi Rogers, Anaru Nimmo, Jurney Blair and Brydie Harrison.
"It's going to make a big difference because it cuts out the travel and enables our community to see what it takes to be in a high-performance academy," Northland and Black Ferns player Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate said.
Ngata-Aerengamate, of the Te Rarawa Rugby Club, said a base for players in the Far North was crucial, especially for Northland's Farah Palmer Cup players who were not paid but expected to travel to Kaikohe and Whangārei for regular trainings.
The Black Ferns hooker hoped the academy would be a success and prompt more facilities in areas such as Kaikohe, Taipa and Te Kao.
Hyde, also the women's rugby academy manager, said player mentality would be of great importance with players required to complete eight mental health sessions annually.
"If we can make sure that they're ideal athletes off the field, then their performance on the field will take care of itself," he said.
While he foresaw player commitment as his biggest hurdle, Hyde said Farah Palmer Cup premiership promotion and success at the Jock Hobbs under-19 tournament would be a good indicator of the academy's worth.
Smith, the only ex-Black Fern to hold a Farah Palmer Cup head coaching role, said the academy was proof of the potential in the Far North.
"For me, it just shows the progress of rugby in the north, it's great to see Northland Rugby actually coming on board, stepping out of the square and taking a risk," she said.
Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore said the academy was an essential facility for the area to harvest its abundance of natural talent.
"For us, it's about having really well-conditioned athletes with good skill programmes in place and looking to grow the depth of the game," he said.
"We know women's rugby is the fastest growing part of rugby in New Zealand and having regions like this with facilities like this is going to help us continue that growth."