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14 hours ago
An increase in the overseas exodus of the country's best up-and-coming rugby league players is stripping the ranks of the game.
A total of 127 players have sought release from their New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) registration and clearance to play overseas so far this year.
That is aproximately six teams or half a Bartercard Cup competition, which is where the bulk of them come from.
Around 25% of those heading overseas, mostly to Australia, are junior development players.
Bronson Harrison is at Wests Tigers and Iosia Soliola at the Roosters and played for the junior Blues; Josh Tatupu (Auckland), Sam Tagataese (Wellington) and Joseph Clark (Christchurch) played in the junior Maroons.
Among the latest exports are New Zealand under-16 representative Hermann Retzlaff, a prop, who has shifted to Keebra Park High School on the Gold Coast, with promise of a shot at making the Wests Tigers. It is the same school Benji Marshall attended. Retzlaff is one of around eight young New Zealanders on their books.
The Broncos have shifted New Zealand secondary schools half Tim Rangihuna over from Aranui High in Christchurch with promise of a trial. He is the fourth player taken from the Canterbury Bulls in recent days, with goal-kicking fullback Lusi Sione off to England and second rower Taylor Pelenise going to Souths.
Joseph Clark, a lock rated the best prospect in the South Island, has rejected an approach from the Warriors to sign for the Broncos after seven games with the Bulls.
To help stem the flow, the Auckland Rugby League has formed its own management co-op to help young players sort real offers from approaches which could see young players heading to obscure teams in rural New South Wales.
Called Vision Sports Management, it aims to identify top talent in their early teens and offer a stable pathway to the top, without interference with schoolwork.
In charge is long-term coach Stan Martin. Twelve boys aged 14-18 are in the programme so far and already one, wing/centre Sean Morris, 19, has been sent to the Tigers on a two-year contract.
A second player, Darren Kingi, has been attached to the Manly development programme run in Auckland with hopes of a trial.
Ten others are at the Warriors. Martin is happy for the Auckland National Rugby League franchise to have first look at the players.
There is a good working relationship between him and Duane Mann, who runs the NZRL-Warriors development programme.
The players have to be aged 18 before they can sign a legally binding contract without their parents' input.
Martin aims to protect them from signing away any hope they may have. He also wants some reality and truth in the deal. "We don't want boys to dream of something that won't happen."
"We have identified these guys from ages 13 or 14 and put on the tournaments they play in. Then they get all sorts of people walking up to them saying, 'I'm the scout for such-and-such a club'.
"They don't need that at this stage of their career.
"We want to take them under our wing, nurture them and continue their education in football and, when they are 18, offer management services."
It is non-profit but Sports Vision will take a percentage which will be returned to the development fund.