JRF helping hold onto young Auckland rugby talent

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The 2017 Auckland Rugby Union Supporters' Club Junior Rugby Foundation bursary recipients. Photo / Jody Wong

By Campbell Burnes

Auckland Rugby is not just idly standing by watching all its young talent being snapped up by other unions in an overheated open market.

Since 1990, in fact, the Auckland Rugby Union Supporters' Club, via its Junior Rugby Foundation, has provided bursaries to young talent from the union's schools and clubs to help with education costs. The hope is that when the boys move into life after school they will stay within the union to play their rugby and ultimately, if all goes well, move into the top representative team.

The bursaries are worth $500 each, of which the first cheque of $150 was handed to the 10 2017 recipients on Wednesday at a function at Eden Park. They are all players in their final year of school and have been identified by Auckland Rugby staff as having the potential to go far in the game.

At the function, a new scholarship was announced - the Geoff and Rose Creighton Trades Bursary - which will annually enable a talented young school leaver to have his course costs and other fees up to $5000 met towards training for a trade. Representatives from UNITEC, MIT and the provider of construction trade apprenticeships, BCITO, all addressed the bursary winners on Wednesday.

Businessman Geoff Creighton, cousin of original Junior Rugby Foundation trustee Graham Creighton, and his wife Rose have long been Auckland rugby fans, and wanted to do something tangible to help the union retain young talent.

"Just knowing that university is not for everyone, the trades (scholarship) sounded quite timely for Auckland at the moment," says Creighton. As you can imagine, the construction industry is booming.

"We hope it'll make a difference to hold onto some of these boys who get approached so early (to go elsewhere), before their careers have really even started. When you see the number of Auckland boys playing throughout the country and not for Auckland, surely we can do something," he says. That number, of Auckland juniors and former academy and rep players, is said to be over 100 spread over other Mitre 10 Cup unions.

Sacred Heart College First XV centre/wing/fullback Lemeki Namoa is head boy and a bursary winner. The trades scholarship will not be for him, as he is destined for the University of Auckland, probably studying psychology. He appreciates the recognition for the bursary, but that is only the first step on the rung to where he wants to go with his rugby.

"I think for me it's about realising my potential. That's what they emphasise with these programmes. Talent will only take you so far," says Namoa, who has scored some fine tries for his First XV in 2015-16. Sacred Heart pushed champions MAGS hard in an intense final in 2016, so the motivation is high for the 2017 group for the 1A competition, which kicks off on May 6.

Namoa is committed to staying in the union, which is always music to the ears of Auckland Rugby. There are many pressures and offers flying around for schoolboys these days, be it from league, AFL or other unions, of which Canterbury and Waikato are the most aggressive.

"Growing up, Auckland has always been the team I wanted to play for. This is where my heart lies, so hopefully this is where I can play. All my childhood heroes, like Doug Howlett and Joe Rokocoko, have come through Auckland," says Namoa.

Nine of the 10 bursary winners play their First XV for 1A teams, including the MAGS duo of lock Jack Casey-Pickering, who is 2017 captain, and goalkicking hooker Oliver Shepherd, plus St Kentigern prop JP Papani.

The 2017 JRF bursary winners are:

Callum Bean (Auckland Grammar, fullback)

Jack Casey-Pickering (MAGS, lock)

Carter Hackett (Pakuranga, lock)

Calum McNab (St Peter's, flanker)

Abel Magalogo (Kelston BHS, first five/fullback)

Lemeki Namoa (Sacred Heart, centre/wing/fullback)

JP Papani (St Kentigern, prop)

Oliver Shepherd (MAGS, hooker)

Max Toailoa (Kelston BHS, first five/centre)

Wesley Tapueluelu (St Peter's, prop)

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