Academy rugby league squad members sweat it out, from closest to camera, Ryan Buckley, Birrrigan Young and Jake Douglas (all Lower Clarence) and Max Lowe and Adrian Gorton (both Murwillumbah).
Academy rugby league squad members sweat it out, from closest to camera, Ryan Buckley, Birrrigan Young and Jake Douglas (all Lower Clarence) and Max Lowe and Adrian Gorton (both Murwillumbah).

Sweating it out in the summer heat

RUGBY LEAGUE'S status as a winter sport is under serious threat with about 40 of the region's best Under-17s and Under-18s sweating it out over the summer break as part of the Northern Rivers Academy program.

Players from towns from Grafton in the south, to Tweed Heads in the north and Kyogle in the west have been getting together once a fortnight since October.

Apart from a short break over Christmas, rugby league's young guns have been receiving lessons in a variety of subjects ranging from isolation defence to nutrition.

According to Country Rugby League coaching and development officer Mike Donnelly, the aim of the program is to get the players ready for a career in senior rugby league.

“Shannon Walker and Will Matthews have been in this program and now they are both playing for the Titans,” Donnelly said.

“The aim is to get the boys ready for a career in first grade and then in the NRL.”

The Northern Rivers Academy will play a trial game on Saturday against the Gold Coast's Harold Matthews Cup Under-16s at Cudgen.

It's the curtain-raiser to the Seagulls' Under-20 team taking on the Titans' Under-18s.

“The aim of this weekend's trial is to get ready to play a tri-series against the other academies (from the Tamworth and Hunter regions) at Coffs Harbour on the weekend of February 21 and 22,” Donnelly said.

And, judging by the current crop of juniors coming through the ranks, the future looks bright for rugby league on the Northern Rivers.

“This is the fourth season I've been with the program and this latest group is the best bunch of kids I've had,” Donnelly said.

“They are a good, enthusiastic, well mannered bunch of kids and a fantastic credit to Northern Rivers football.”



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