Its Raping And Pillaging Time

It's coming into what the rugby league development officers describe as "reaping time" as Australian clubs swoop down on young players at provincial level and national programmes.

Last year 27 players from the national junior competition were contracted to clubs across the Tasman or put on development scholarships.

The trend is increasing because of the bite of the National Rugby League salary cap.

Clubs are keener than ever to uncover the new Brad Fittler or Stacey Jones, and to sign good young players to a long-term deal that is cheaper for them.

The national age-group tournament at Hopuhopu last week attracted talent scouts from Brisbane, the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta, as well as some of the leading Australian player agents.

Scouts also followed the British side Barla on their recent tour here.

Many players have also been signed from Bartercard Cup sides.

New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) national coaching and development manager Richard Bolton said schoolboy players were under undue pressure at too early an age.

At 18 they were out of the NZRL programme. But many were being signed at 16, he said.

The Manly club is about to jump into NZRL and Warriors territory with a youth academy in Auckland.

The Sea Eagles claim they have had approaches from two city clubs, which they won't name yet, keen to liaise with them on players and to provide facilities for coaching clinics.

Manly's new talent scouting boss, former centre and second-rower Noel "Crusher" Cleal, was in New Zealand last weekend to watch under-16s games.

The club was negotiating with two players to shift to Sydney soon.

Manly spokesman Peter Peters said Auckland under-20s coach Mark Gardener had joined the club, and he and former Manly and Kiwis coach Graham Lowe would hold coaching clinics in New Zealand.

The full Sea Eagles coaching staff would spend a week in New Zealand running classes for coaches and players.

"We're not trying to run interference on the Warriors, it's just that we see so much talent there they can't possibly make use of it all," Peters said.