Coffs Council and the Rabbitohs boot junior league
THEY proudly display the South Sydney logo as a tribute to their major sponsor but for Group 2 junior league players, there's no place on the bill when the Rabbitohs play a pre-season NRL trial in Coffs Harbour next year.
Senior players from Orara Valley, Sawtell, Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo and Woolgoolga will combine for a 'Speed Sevens' tournament before Souths take on Penrith Panthers at BCU International Stadium on February 14.
But for what is believed to be the first time since NRL teams began playing regularly in the city, no junior match will feature on the under card.
National development officer of ARL Development Jay Sakaio believes this decision flies in the face of the Rabbitohs stated aim of reaching out to the grassroots of local rugby league.
“It is extremely disappointing that junior league will be playing no part whatsoever in the trial match,” he said.
“The more I hear about this trial match, the more it frustrates me that both the council and Souths have given Group 2 Junior Rugby League the cold shoulder.
“It is hard enough battling AFL, rugby union and soccer without being excluded by people you would expect to be your allies.”
Sakaio denies suggestions that having juniors involved doesn't draw a crowd.
“This is inaccurate and is contrary to all the TV advertising done to market the game at the top level,” he added.
“If the kids play one of the lead-up matches they'll bring the whole family...mums and dads, brothers and sisters, the grandparents who all eat and drink at the game...it's been proven time and time again and that doesn't always happen in the same fashion with senior players.
“I guess we will have to wait and see.”
Sakaio is intrigued by an August 20 statement made by mayor Keith Rhoades at the announcement of the Rabbitohs agreement that: “...one of the key drivers behind our partnership with the South Sydney Rabbitohs was the opportunity to bring sport at this level to local fans – particularly kids...being able to see their heroes play and train in their own city will be an inspiration for local supporters and talented young players.”
“Mothers do not give birth to 16-year-old rugby league players and until the NRL, its clubs and the council acknowledge the work that is put in before then, it is going to be a long, hard road for junior rugby league,” Sakaio added.
“To leave us out of the planning of this match is a real slap in the face.”