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New competition helping NRL clubs to access more Kiwi talent

Wests Tigers have signed three promising Kiwi rookies that coach Michael Maguire spotted while watching a live stream of a New Zealand under-18s representative fixture.

The recruitment of forwards Tray Lolesio and Tamehana Paruru and halfback/hooker Jarney Proctor-Harwood is an example of the amount of talent in New Zealand as Maguire was watching the match to view some other players the Tigers had already signed.

With 25 of the 85 players who took part in last weekend's virtual NRL rookie camp being from New Zealand, the number of Kiwis in the Telstra Premiership is set to surpass the 23 per cent of all talent in last season's competition.

Yet there is more that NRL coaches like Maguire, who is also the Kiwis mentor, don't get to see and many of those players become lost to rugby union.

The introduction of a New Zealand under-20s competition next year and an NZRL team to join the NSWRL's SG Ball under-19s competition in 2022 are aimed at changing that and creating pathways for more young Kiwis to the NRL.

"Building rugby league in New Zealand is only going to help the NRL because it will provide opportunities for more players and grow the game," Maguire said.

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire.
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire. ©

"For myself as New Zealand coach, it also provides more players for the Kiwis as it creates another pathway for them to have a career in rugby league.

"Just by organising that under-18s game last month the NZRL provided myself with an opportunity to see some kids who we then recruited to come over here to the Wests Tigers.

"We grabbed three kids out of that and they will come into families, come into housing and be well looked after here but we wouldn't have signed them if we hadn't seen them on the live stream."

Lolesio, Paruru and Proctor-Harwood will join three other Kiwis from the New Zealand under-18s clubs versus schools fixture, who the Tigers had already signed to complement their already strong junior talent in the Balmain and Western Suburbs SG Ball teams.

However, the establishment of the six-team under-20s competition and an NZRL side in the SG Ball will give players the opportunity to remain in New Zealand for longer rather than moving Australia at 16 or 17 years of age.

"The NZRL has been spending a lot of time bolstering their programs for juniors and it will allow kids to stay there now until a later age but it also enables the other 15 NRL teams, besides the Warriors, to see them," Maguire said.

"When I played at Canberra we had the likes of John Lomax, Quentin Pongia and Ruben Wiki come through the Bartercard Cup in New Zealand and that is the type of pathway [NZRL CEO] Greg Peters and [GM of high performance] Motu Tony are trying to develop with the under-20s competition."

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