It's hard to say what shone brighter at Puketawhero Park at the weekend - the sun or the players.

The North Island Districts Tournament comprised under 13, under 14, under 15 and under 17 teams from Waikato, Coastline, Bay of Plenty, Northland, Taranaki and Manawatu.

Gisborne Tairawhiti also had teams entered in the tournament but, unfortunately, weather prevented them taking part.

Waikato and Bay of Plenty contested the final of the under 14 tournament, which was completed on Saturday, with Waikato the victors 34-10.


The other tournaments were played over two days.

Waikato won the under 13s, beating Northland in the final. Bay of Plenty won the under 15s, beating Taranaki in the final. Waikato won the under 17s, beating Bay of Plenty in the final.

The tournament was also an opportunity for players to impress as Brisbane Broncos elite player development manager Simon Scanlan and skills and recruitment coach Mick Kennedy were in attendance, as well as recruitment staff from the Warriors, Cowboys and Eels.

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Upper Central Zone Rugby League (UCZ) general manager Mel Bennett said the under 14 players in particular were outstanding.

"There is certainly an exciting future for that group going to youth nationals next year as 15-year-olds.

"The Broncos staff were really impressed with that level and they think it's going to be exciting to watch them develop," Bennett said.

In 2015 UCZ announced an NRL pathways partnership with the Broncos, aimed at providing more opportunities for its players.

Bay of Plenty under-15 player Rawakata Ngamotu-Tahana makes a run against Coastlines. Photo / Stephen Parker
Bay of Plenty under-15 player Rawakata Ngamotu-Tahana makes a run against Coastlines. Photo / Stephen Parker

Since then Broncos staff have travelled to the region on numerous occasions to deliver skill sessions and provide educational workshops for players.

"The under 17 grade is the kids [Broncos staff] worked with two years ago when the partnership was formed, so they were able to watch them come through.

"They've identified three or four players, whose names we can't release yet, and invited one kid from the Bay of Plenty to participate in a game later this year."

Despite having to make late changes to the draw when Gisborne pulled out, she said the tournament was "awesome".

"It still ran pretty smoothly and the weather has been great.

"Overall the experience for all these players has been amazing . . . .the local parents have said they are stoked with the event, it gives the younger players an idea of what to expect."

New Zealand Rugby League national talent manager David McMeeken said a lot of the younger players had been working with the NZRL for a couple of years now.

"The boys are starting to understand what they are capable of, they've been exposed to some body functional and conditioning stuff, that definitely helps them develop as players when they come to these tournaments.

"When they hit 13 and 14 they do want competitive football and they do want those representative honours.

"To be able to represent your family and your region is of high importance to these boys and they do take a lot of pride in it," McMeeken said.