Hundreds of young rugby league players were in Rotorua this week for the North Island Districts Tournament. The tournament attracted 23 teams and included under-13, under-15 and under-17 divisions. The under-15 and under-17 grades also included girls' tournaments and with twice the number of girls' teams as the previous year, it is the fastest growing area of the game. The launch of the Women's NRL last year ensured there is a clear pathway for young women in the sport. Warriors Women's head coach and NZRL development/wellbeing manager Luisa Avaiki was at the tournament and loved seeing so many girls involved.
As Warriors Women's head coach Luisa Avaiki watches the girls in action at the North Island Districts Tournament, her love for the game is clear.
She cheers every play and discusses each moment with great enthusiasm.
Avaiki is also the NZRL development/wellbeing manager and said having more girls' teams in the tournament was great for the game.
"It's awesome, it's exciting to see because we now have a clear pathway for our girls from age groups all the way up to women's. Just the interest in the girls to get involved in the game and play the game, it's great to see a couple of new teams here.
"What I really enjoyed is watching how keen and eager the girls are to get in the game, they're really enjoying it."
She said it was that positive experience which she hoped would encourage the girls to keep playing rugby league.
"At this age that's what we want to promote. A lot of these girls probably come from other sports so, first of all, they're trying something new and we want them to enjoy it."
While the focus was on participation and enjoyment, Avaiki was impressed by the skills on display.
"I've been really impressed, just the basic skills they have - running the ball, passing, they move the ball a lot at this age group too, which is really cool."
The female side of the sport has changed a lot from when she started playing.
Avaiki was an excellent junior basketballer and touch player who took up league with the Richmond club in Grey Lynn halfway through the 1994 season.
Less than a year later, she was part of the inaugural Kiwi Ferns side which operated on a shoe string in those pioneering times.
"When I started playing rugby league, our team formed from a whole lot of girls who came from different codes at a representative level. That's why I understand the importance of trying other codes and having a positive experience there.
"These girls are getting in a lot earlier, we didn't have rugby league at this age group, I was 20 when I started playing. A formalised competition for them at this age is really awesome."