Ngā Puna Wai was a hotbed of rugby league education and development for five consecutive days last week as the most significant event of Canterbury Rugby League’s partnership with NRL club Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to date unfolded.

Led by Craig Wilson (Pathways and Development), Fifita Hala (Recruitment) and Adam Hartigan (General Manager – Pathways), the Bulldogs delivered three coach upskilling sessions and two days of skill development for junior players.

“The feedback’s been really good – it’s only in its infancy, but the first steps have been really positive, the coaches are great and we want to give them access to as much information, video, skills and drills, and support,” Wilson said.

“We’re very lucky in that we’ve got a good league club behind us and a couple of guys who are very passionate about the development of rugby league in Phil Gould and Adam Hartigan.

“We’ve been discussing it for 12 or 18 months how we can benefit this area, but it’s an area rich in rugby league talent, going back to the Brent Todds, and [more recently] Jordan Riki, Slade Griffin, Griffin Neame.

“We’re just hoping that if we can assist and develop the game here, there will be more to come.

“We’re committed for the next two years and hopefully that will form a catalyst for more guys to come through the system and play in the NRL, not just at the Bulldogs but at other clubs.”

Wednesday’s initial seminar was held for national level and pathways coaches, Thursday’s session was for youth club and 13s/14s representative coaches, and on Friday senior club coaches and 15s grade coaches and older got their opportunity.

On Saturday afternoon, around 100 juniors from the 13s and 14s grades experienced a skill development training day at Ngā Puna Wai, while roughly the same number of 15s-18s boys and 15s-23s girls had the same invaluable chance on Sunday.

“They focused on rugby league’s fundamentals and the Bulldogs’ big thing was effort, so we just wanted everyone listening and putting their best foot forward,” Canterbury Rugby League Director of Football Jamie Lester enthused.

“There were lots of smiling faces and prizes given out by the Bulldogs to players who really showed that effort they were looking for.

“Sunday’s session saw the players split into backs and forwards, so the training was a bit more position specific. Our coaches had been learning the Bulldogs during the week, too, so they were instilling some of the stuff they had learned.

“Both days were mixed gender – that is part of the Bulldogs’ values, that everyone is treated as equals.”

Wilson provided some further insight into the ethos behind the Bulldogs’ methods.

“It’s not so much about the sporting element – because they can learn the skill anywhere – it’s about the little things: the attention to detail, how you approach your training, the preparation you need to do,” Wilson explain.

“Eighty percent of going to that next level is learning and knowing how to train, and perseverance. If they can do that, they get into the mindset of being able to train well … and when you have to perform those skills under pressure and at speed, they become competent and that builds confidence, which builds their game and allows them to grow and develop.

“The first thing that fails under pressure or fatigue [in a game] will be their skill level, so it’s a fine line. Teaching these kids to listen and that discipline doing drills, once they pick that habit up, that’s something they have for the rest of their lives – in footy and in general.”

Lester praised the Bulldogs’ dedication to the club’s burgeoning development and pathways relationship with CRL, which was formally announced in July.

“The big thing for Canterbury Rugby League was being able to showcase that partnership,” Lester said.

“To be able to have the Bulldogs here for five days just shows the commitment they’re willing to put in. It’s not their first visit either – this is the third time they’ve been over this year. They’re really putting the time and energy into bringing our youth through.

“It was a great opportunity for our community, from a coach and player perspective, to get involved and learn and grow.”

The Bulldogs’ activities on this trip have not been limited to the Canterbury region, as CRL CEO Malcolm highlights.

“We are excited and grateful for the Bulldogs investing their time in being in Christchurch for five days,” Humm said.

“Our intent is to support our coaches with their developmental learning and impart this on female and male players, whether this be through the club system or representative programs.

“We also have a greater purpose through the relationship, and this is to support the wider South Island. Examples of this include CRL and the Bulldogs spending time at St Thomas of Canterbury College – the recent NZRL Secondary Schools Tournament champions – and the Bulldogs travelling to Greymouth to deliver a coaching and player development clinic after their Christchurch visit.

“We aim to spread these opportunities wider for future visits.”


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