New series a boost to Touch
A new school series incorporating 28 existing events around the nation will give touch football the basis from which to become the greatest participation sport in Australia according to Touch Football Australia CEO, Colm Maguire.
The Queensland All Schools Carnival in Brisbane that incorporates some 7,000 athletes representing 420 school teams was the backdrop to the launch of the 2016 Harvey Norman School Series which will culminate at the Harvey Norman National Youth Championships next September.
Current Brisbane Broncos representative Ashley Taylor represented Queensland and Australian Indigenous junior touch football teams and was on hand on Friday to lend his support to the new school series and Maguire believes touch football's alignment with the NRL will be a key driver in some exciting outcomes for the sport.
"We're still in our infancy so it's still something that's extremely exciting for us," Maguire said of the partnership with the NRL. "We've grown by 50,000 participants this year which is bucking industry trends.
"Our alignment with the NRL has probably broken down the barriers as to what it is to play touch football and opens up the opportunity for rugby league clubs to see that touch football is a program that adds benefits.
"All the vocabulary is changing and it's really about what we can achieve together.
"We're going to see some massive gains and we'll certainly be the biggest collective sport in Australia in the next five years."
Taylor's formative days of touch football came in Toowoomba and he wasn't the only member of the family taking part; everyone was in on the action.
"My family loves to play touch in Toowoomba. All of us have played touch, Mum, Dad, brother and sister, my younger sister still plays," Taylor told NRL.com.
"There are some friendships that I still have today that have grown over the years from playing touch. Obviously I don't get to play too much anymore – I try to play a bit of social touch – but the friendships going up were crucial and it's really good that my friendships have stayed strong over the years."
Some of the game's most exciting stars cut their teeth playing touch football, with the likes of Shaun Johnson, Benji Marshall and Anthony Milford all crediting their days playing touch football for their extraordinary footwork.
Titans-bound Taylor may not have quite the same stunning sidesteps as those three young men but said his development as a rugby league halfback certainly benefited from his days of playing touch football.
"I think the speed of it and the reaction time you need to play touch," Taylor said of the skills that transfer to the rugby league field.
"In touch you want to hit the right person at the right spot so it's just like being a rugby league halfback.
"You've got to hit the right person in the game and it can produce an outcome for you."
One of touch football's great strengths over the past 30 years has been its ability to attract female participation.
The Queensland All Schools carnival featured a 50/50 split between boys and girls and Maguire believes the new Harvey Norman School Series will further inflate the female representation at a school level in particular.
"Rugby league has such a high profile so there are a lot of young girls who see the game and want to participate in it," said Maguire.
"The contact nature will appeal to some but the broad nature that touch has being fast, energetic, throwing a footy around is really appealing.
"When you get into the participation aspect we have total gender equity, our male athletes are treated exactly the same as our female athletes. That appeals to a lot of the girls because they know they're going to come in and participate in a sport that puts them at the pinnacle.
"In the school system I'd be confident that we'd have more girls playing than boys so the school system in particular is where we can grow our female participation."