The countdown is on to the third annual Kiwi Junior Rugby League Festival taking place in Whakatāne next week.
Organised by Global Games, the event will run from September 7-9 with junior players coming from around New Zealand, including Rotorua, to participate and compete against their peers for three fun-filled days at Whakatāne's Rugby Park.
Global Games Events Director, Ty Campbell, said word about the event was spreading and the Kiwi Junior League festival was becoming a true highlight of the junior sporting calendar.
"It takes three years to fully establish an event. We feel that, this year, we will really be hitting the mark with where we want the festival to be.
"It's now a part of the calendar for a number of junior clubs and they look forward to attending each year."
The festival gives young players the chance to play the game that they love and also to travel with their teammates and support crew – often for the first time – and to create new friendships and enduring memories, said Campbell.
Teams compete across three grades – under-10, under-11 and under-12s – with 12 to 15 teams playing in each age bracket.
Caleb Ahu from Whakatāne club Mataatua Saddlebacks said 2018 would be their third tournament and this year they were entering teams for the under-10s and under-12s.
"We have a very proud community here in Whakatāne, with a lot of humble, hardworking people who give a lot back. Our club is very kaupapa-driven, it's a way of life for the kids and families involved and for them to be able to participate in a festival like this is great.
"You see the looks on the kids' faces when they're taking their celebration photos, or when they're doing their haka – there are some really cool moments," Ahu said.
The festival was designed to maximise time both on and off-pitch. When they're not playing teams will have the opportunity to explore the region.
"We are really excited about this year's event which will be our biggest rugby league festival to date," Campbell said.
"We are seeing really strong interest from the South Island particularly, with hundreds of people making the trip up each year to take part. Four clubs are even pre-registered for next year year's event."
Rotorua clubs Ngongotaha Chiefs and Pikiao Warriors will take part.