By Simon Masterton
The St George Illawarra Dragons proudly attended the Australian School Sport Rugby League Championships held at Collegians Sports Complex, Figtree on Wednesday.
Dragons duo Jack de Belin and Will Matthews were both in attendance at the tournament, signing autographs, mingling with young fans and enjoying the junior football action themselves.
“I don’t mind watching the young fellas run around; I haven’t seen much of this type of footy for a long time so it’s great to see how much the game’s progressed,” said Matthews.
“It’s good to see the states that aren’t known for rugby league getting teams involved; obviously trying to grow the game is important and the more teams you get in the better.
“It’s an unreal stadium and the setup they’ve got here in Figtree, they’ve obviously put a fair bit of money into it and I think it’s great for the kids to have these sorts of facilities.”
The tournament consists of Under 12s representative sides from every Australian state and territory except Tasmania.
It is an annual, week-long event aimed at identifying the country’s outstanding rugby league talent at as young an age as possible.
While many of rugby league’s ‘affiliated states’ lack involvement in the established Under 16s and Under 18s representative competitions of New South Wales and Queensland, the Under 12 national competition allows for talent to be identified and drawn into such long-standing systems when the time is right.
In New South Wales, the representative side is only selected following the competition of the 12 PSSA zones – which was won by Sydney West in the June state tournament.
With the 2014 national championships hosted by the Illawarra, Figtree’s state-of-the-art Collegians Sports Complex was the scene of both the 40-minute modified games and the NRL-delivered player welfare program that was a requirement of all attending players.