Touch football in Australia is going from strength to strength on the back of its partnership with the National Rugby League.
The alliance between the TFA (Touch Football Australia) and NRL occurred in late 2013 and since then the profile of touch football has increased dramatically.
So much so that a mixed touch football All Stars series like that of the rugby league will take place on Saturday.
The Indigenous Touch All Stars will take on the TFA All Stars at Suncorp Stadium in a two-match series, with the latter to be played just prior to the kick-off of the Harvey Norman NRL All Stars fixture.
Events like Saturday, accompanied with high profile sponsors such as Harvey Norman, are giving the sport the exposure it needs.
This exposure is turning into high participation levels and an increasing supporter base.
Pathways are now there for talented men and women to turn their touch football skills into a career with the NRL.
Touch football requires agility, fitness and speed – all of which are important components of rugby league and NRL clubs are on the lookout for the next fleet-footed superstar.
Four-time Touch Football World Cup winner and TFA All Stars representative, Kylie Hilder, says the partnership between the two codes has done wonders for the profile of touch football in Australia.
“I’ve been in the game a long time and it’s only been since the NRL has come on board with the alliance that touch football has just gone through the roof,” Hilder said.
“I think people are just starting to realise that touch football is not just a game that people might play as a warm up or and off-season game to rugby league.
“You need to have skill and be an athlete to play touch football at a high level.
“I really like the fact that the NRL clubs are starting to realise that this partnership is bringing more people to their game as well.
Many rugby league players started their sporting journey in the sport of touch football.
Both Australian international Scott Prince and New Zealand international Shaun Johnson started their careers stepping around defenders in touch football competitions.
Prince, now retired from rugby league, has returned to touch football.
A participant in the Indigenous All Stars touch football team last year, Prince is now a mentor for the 2016 team.
He says the partnership has created opportunities for both men and women to create a career doing what they love.
“It’s massive. It raises the profile of touch football,” said Prince.
“The NRL has some fantastic supporters and sponsors of it. It’s been great to see Harvey Norman jump on board with a touch sponsorship throughout all the platforms. Through the national leagues, the World Cup and now the All Stars week.
“I think even the fact that the number of pathways that this partnership creates is something special. Whether it’s through the women that move onto rugby league or even the Sevens in rugby union. The boys can push on from touch and go into the rugby league.
“It’s an opportunity for players like me who have retired from rugby league who still think they can contribute without the full on conflict and training. That is what makes this partnership so perfect.”