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Young elite athletes need opportunities for recognition. If the athelete is in a development programme, or plays for a recognised team, that recognition may not require any competence from the sport's administrators beyond organising a draw, fields, and officials. This is the case with rugby union in Auckland, where membership of a first fifteen in the secondary schools 1A competition will get young men looked at.
In rugby league it is not so simple. It's easier for the young blokes who live in Auckland. If they can make the premier team in a first division (Fox Memorial Championship) club, then they will be in two televised games each year. The second opportunity is the Warriors development squad or that club's under 20 team. Both these avenues are pretty much closed to boys who live out of Auckland. They rely on the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) to provide national age group competitions, a national school competition, and to select age group and school teams to play Australia.
However, many teenagers have no confidence in any of these systems to recognise their talent. In what is pretty much a one way flow, 800 New Zealand junior payers moved to Australia last year. This partly reflects migration patterns, but only partly.
The three players above are all examples. Sonny Bill Williams played his junior league for the Marist club in Auckland. He was signed by the Bulldogs in Sydney as a 16 year old, and moved to Australia. Shaun Kenny Dowall was famously told by the Warriors that he was not in the top 100 centres in the country, and left for Australia. Taane Milne played his junior league in Papakura, without distinction, until he moved to AUstralia, the Australian schoolboys team, and the Roosters.
You have to be 17 to play senior rugby league. So, if you want to be be picked up by a professional club before then, it's either the Warriors development programme or Australia. If you're a white boy, forget the Warriors. Historically the Warriors have picked bullies for their under 20 squad - size, strength, speed. The problem with this approach, as the club is finding out this year, is that bullies in age group footie are nobodies in the senior game. The age-group heroes have never been put under pressure at speed when they are tired. When they are in this situation for the first time at first grade level they make mistakes.
It's possible for a sixteen year old to trust the NZRL system. There's a national competition at under 15 and under 17 level, and a national schools tournament (if your school plays league). If you're that dumb, then stick to video games laddie! The NZRL has had to call off the planned NZ schoolboys team tour to Australia because it has run out of money. It has run out of money because its wages bill has jumped from 2.7 million in 2013 to 4.3 million this year, and it spent $489,000 supporting the seven zones last year. The NZRL is bloated, wasteful, and ineffective. It has only taken Phil Holden, the new CEO, two years to undo all the good work done by Jim Doyle.
WHat happens when the sport's administrators are rubbish? The best players move.
postcript Phil Holden resigned as CEO of NZRl in December 2015 for family reasons.