Year of huge growth for rugby league in New Zealand

New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Jim Doyle today revealed player numbers had increased by more than 50 per cent this year capping off one of the best seasons in the game's history in this country.

He said player data compiled by the NZRL showed participation numbers had climbed by 52 per cent since 2009 with the overall total of players swelling to more than 24,000.

"It has been a tremendous year for the game at the highest levels with the Kiwis winning the Four Nations, Benji Marshall winning the Golden Boot, the Junior Kiwis doing so well and the Warriors also performing superbly in the National Rugby League and the National Youth Competition," he said.

"But while we're all thrilled with those successes it's just as pleasing for us to see the fantastic growth in the game at grass roots level.

"When the Kiwis won the World Cup two years ago, rugby league in this country was in crisis on a number of levels.

"Our mission was to rebuild it from the bottom, a job we started in earnest with the launching of our strategic plan in September last year.

"Our work has still only just started and we have much more we want to achieve, especially in terms of development of the game at grass roots levels, but knowing we now have more than 24,000 players involved is extremely satisfying. It's a sign we're making real progress.

"The areas with the biggest increases were Manawatu (400 per cent) and Taranaki (109 per cent) in the Mid Central Zone, the Northern Zone (128 per cent) and the Counties Manukau Zone (108 per cent) while in the Upper Central Zone, Coastline showed a 90 per cent increase and Waikato 57 per cent. The Auckland Zone was up 49 per cent.Doyle said the NZRL's ability to gather player information had been significantly improved through the introduction of its LeagueNet player database.

"It has enabled us to compile far more accurate data but there is still room for improvement in the system. We know there are a lot more players involved that we still haven't captured," he said.

Doyle said the growth in the game had been achieved through a number of initiatives.

"Critical to our development have been the Junior Roots camps we have held throughout the country which have done so much to promote the game in the zones," he said.

"We've also held a number of Junior Elite Kiwi Roots camps in Australia and also in Auckland aimed at winning the hearts of New Zealand-eligible players.

"Tony Kemp and the football department have performed outstandingly as they strive to create pathways for our players. There is tremendous talent in this country as well as in Australia and we want those players to know there is a pathway for them.

"The 2010 year has finished with:
* The Kiwis holding the World Cup and Four Nations Cup, trophies which the Kangaroos have almost owned (together with the 2005 Tri Nations, the Kiwis have had three major final successes against Australia in the last five years and were beaten in extra time in the 2006 Tri Nations final)
* Coach Stephen Kearney achieving a 67 per cent success rate with four wins in six Tests
* Benji Marshall, Manu Vatuvei, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Nathan Fien all named in the Team of the Year voted on by Golden Boot judges
* NZRL Player of the Year Kenny-Dowall named the Centre of the Year at the Rugby League International Federation's annual awards and also in the RLIF Team of the Year
* The Junior Kiwis sharing their two-match series with the Junior Kangaroos* The Kiwi Ferns holding the women's World Cup
* Seven Kiwis appearing in the NRL grand final - Jason Nightingale, Jeremy Smith and Nathan Fien for premiers St George Illawarra and Sam Perrett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for the beaten Sydney Roosters
* The Vodafone Warriors reaching the NRL finals for the third time in four years after finishing fifth in the minor premiership
* The Vodafone Junior Warriors winning the club's first premiership by beating South Sydney in the NYC grand final
* The Vodafone Warriors winning the overall Club Championship for the first time (awarded to the club with the best combined record in the NRL and NYC)"