Rugby League in Australia takes pride in its grassroots support and now a new initiative is turbo-charging the growth of its junior ranks.
Just 12 months after it was launched, League Stars has welcomed 11,500 participants, of which three-quarters are new to the game.
And it doesn't stop there with one in 10 transitioning from League Stars to their community club, resulting in a bonanza of fresh talent.
Head of NRL Government and Community Relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder, described the program as a “soft introduction” for those not familiar with the sport.
“It’s an eight week program, run after schools but at school locations, where kids learn the skills of rugby league – the basics like passing and kicking and footwork,” Boland-Rudder says.
“After that, if boys and girls are interested, we can connect them with a junior rugby league club or, if they’re not ready yet for the contact, we can connect them with a junior touch football team as well.
“We have a very strong relationship with Touch Football Australia – they actually sit in the office adjoining mine (at Moore Park). There’s a 12 month offering for people who want to play league in the winter and touch in the summer or for people who aren’t ready for the tackle variety of the game.”
About one-quarter of those taking part in League Stars are girls, which comes as no surprise to Boland-Rudder.
“We’re seeing the year on year growth is fastest among junior girls – it’s averaged about 25% year on year for the past five years,” he says.
“That’s also a reflection of the stronger participatory focus that our game has put on girls, the prominence of the Origin teams, the Jillaroos and now the NRLW and the expansion of that competition.”
It certainly gets the thumbs up from his three-year-old.
“As a father of a little girl, taking her to the footy and showing her that there are big girls out there who are on TV, it’s really exciting. She’s now got a hero that looks like her and runs like her and she can see that pathway.
“ I took her to a game at Leichhardt Oval last year and her biggest disappointment of the game was that she wasn’t allowed to run on the field with the big girls while they were playing. “