In my first article for 26rounds a few weeks ago I reminded the masses of one of the best things the Commission achieved in 2013: the formal link-up with Touch Football Australia.
This got me wondering whether the advent of the Auckland Nines could open the door for touch football players to play alongside NRL players…
…Allow me to explain.
While the Nines and touch football are still different games, they are much closer than touch footy and rugby league. The game is more open and the speed of both games is relatively similar.
Brad Fittler is getting a run with the Roosters this weekend, and the NRL’s Chief Operating Officer Jim Doyle is seemingly very open to new ideas and concepts around the tournament (http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/summer-league-hybrid-game-on-agenda-for-nrl-20140208-328r1.html). While I don’t exactly agree with this idea, there looks to be a multitude of possibilities around the tournament and what it may look like in the future.
The NRL has committed to the Nines for five years, but it is certainly open to tweaks. One that I think should be considered is the inclusion of a touch footy team in the tournament, or perhaps the possibility of each club using a touch footy player in their squads?
For the pros and cons of the idea, I had a chat with Michael Fleming, a touch football player and administrator located in Darwin.
Mitch180: Hi Michael, what’s your background and current role in touch football?
Michael Fleming: I started playing touch when I was 14 in 1981 and have been involved in some way ever since. I represented the Northern Territory at Men’s open level from 1987 to 1995 and I have coached Northern Territory rep teams in the u18 Boys, Mens Open, and Mixed Open.
I have selected at State Championships and [been] involved with talent identification. I referee occasionally and I have held various positions on the boards of Darwin Touch, and Touch Football NT.
I’m currently President of Palmerston and Rural Touch Football and Vice Chairman of Touch Football NT.
M180: Benefits of TF/NRL link up in NT.
MF: It’s hard to know the full benefit that will be gained by the link up at this stage locally.
Initially we have seen an increase in awareness of touch football at the local and national level. I understand we will be able to start to utilise rugby league development officers to assist our development officers with school visits and promotional activities in schools. That should bring about an increase in Junior numbers across the board.
The increase in overall membership numbers (NRL + TFA) will bring more opportunities for sponsorship, a larger member base to promote to, etc.
M180: Would touch players be interested in playing in the Auckland Nines?
MF: I think a lot definitely would and they would excel. History has shown us a number of touch football players have already succeeded and had very good NRL careers: players like Adrian Lam, Benji Marshall, PJ Marsh and Shaun Johnson to name a few notable ones.
The Nines format, with its extra space, will be perfect for the nippy ball-playing halves and hookers which is pretty much your prototype touch player.
Touch footballers, I believe, have better ball handling skills and better evasive skills, preferring to beat players before the line rather than trying to break the line.
The increased physicality of the NRL Nines will be the biggest issue for most touch players but with training and conditioning these days that could be overcome.
M180: Are touch football players covered by insurance (in case of injuries)?
MF: All touch footy players are covered by some level of insurance if they are playing in a TFA-affiliated competition.
The insurance issue would most likely need to be set up through the NRL, meaning touch football players would sign a contract with the NRL directly, rather than with a club. This could result in an NRL club formally agreeing to ‘sign’ a touch player and going through the NRL to do this. Or 16 touch football players sign with the NRL and a mini-draft commences with each NRL club choosing a player.
In my opinion the linkup between the National Rugby League and Touch Football Australia is a tremendous opportunity for both sports. The boost in profile for the TFA is much needed and it gives the NRL a more national and all-year- round reach.
I’m sure there are many more initiatives that could take place in the short and long term, but I do feel this proposed arrangement holds extreme positives for both organisations.
If you aren’t doing so already I recommend you follow Touch Football Australia CEO Colm Maguire (@ColmMaguireTFA) , Touch Football Australia (@touchfootyaus) and Michael Fleming (Krazykroc) on Twitter.