Touch footy to light up All Stars
Former Queensland and Australian halfback and member of the Indigenous All Stars touch football team Scott Prince believes the partnership between the NRL and Touch Football Australia is a step in the right direction.
It was in August 2013 when the NRL and TFA linked up in an attempt to create the largest sporting community in the country, signifying the biggest boost in participation and game development in the history of either sport.
Now with the Harvey Norman NRL Touch Football All Stars game becoming a part of the NRL All Stars program to be played on Friday at Gold Coast's CBus Super Stadium, Prince said several benefits will be revealed.
"The fact the NRL is teaming up with Touch Football Australia is certainly a smart move in the bigger picture because there are a lot of people who play touch football," Prince told NRL.com.
"I think touch football can benefit from their relationship with the NRL, obviously with sponsorship because it gives them that profile that I think they deserve.
"I think the benefits for both touch and the NRL are really good and with the Indigenous All Stars game coming up against the TFA All Stars, it just helps with awareness and gives especially the elite touch players the recognition they deserve."
Growing up in Mount Isa in the mid-1990s, Prince first played touch football at a time when league was an isolated community and not as popular as it is now.
Looking back on his life and rugby league career – which saw him play 300 NRL games and earn multiple Origin and Test jumpers – Prince said his initial pathway to the NRL may not have been as easy decision if touch football was a genuine option.
"If touch was a professional sport I probably would've stuck with it, but given the fact that opportunities arose with rugby league, including scholarships with the Cowboys, I went down that avenue instead," Prince said.
"Touch football for me was a part of growing up and a sport that I loved. So after retiring from the NRL and still being able to run around and play a sport I love is another good thing."
The influence of touch football in the NRL is obvious when looking at the attributes of recent Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson and Prince's former Wests Tigers teammate Benji Marshall. Both are renowned for their agility, elusiveness, exciting running games and great passing skills. Handy skills in touch or rugby league.
With the Touch Football World Cup set to commence in April and May in Coffs Harbour, a game such as the All Stars will help the game's cause moving forward, according to Prince.
As 84 teams across 21 countries ready themselves, including debut appearances by Chile, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines, for the tournament – touch football is set for another boost in the coming months.
"Having spent time with some of the stars of the touch football fraternity recently, these guys don't get paid to play, but they're committed to the sport they love and go over and above to get to tournaments and training camps," Prince said.
"These guys work to play touch. They love it. In terms of the growth of the game hopefully the NRL and TFA can work on sponsorship which then allows the elite players to be looked after. It then means the junior base will aspire to reach the top and have an incentive to keep pushing themselves.
"With the World Cup coming up this year each team holds camps up and down the east coast. They had one in Rockhampton recently and they worked their butts off. It was almost 40 degrees and the players were out there trying to prepare the best they can to win the World Cup."
For now though the focus is on the All Stars game with Prince pointing out several players to look out for, players who all seem genuinely excited for the opportunity.
"You'll see some of the best touch football players in Australia running around come Friday arvo," Prince said.
"It's a mixed game too, so you'll see a couple of girls in our team like Marikki Watego –she has got an amazing skill level and unbelievable footwork – and there's another young fella from Cairns called Theo Majid, he's a little freak.
"There's also Pete Norman who was a Titans junior and he's in the TFA All Stars. He kills it here on the Gold Coast and he's one of Australia's top three players."
Get your tickets to the All Stars game at ticketek.com.au/allstars