“Our strategy needs to provide options. There is this other part of the market which say they just want skill-based development for our kids,” Ellis said. “That is a space where rugby league – outside of the great work our volunteers do in junior league – that’s a space we haven’t been active in with a product like this.
“This is an opportunity for us to build that product and to get participants playing in a program that is our version of what those participants have been looking for. We saw some really good growth in junior rugby league last year but we think this will accentuate that success.”
Already, through a soft launch, the program – which is offered in a four, six or eight week package – has drawn almost 4500 new kids to rugby league for the first time.
The program has also increased the number of girls taking part to about an 80-20 male-female split. Junior rugby league is typically closer to 90-10 split.
“Whatever applies to the growth of the men’s game applies to the growth of the women’s game,” NSWRL CEO David Trodden said. “One of the difficulties we have had with (women’s participation) is that young girls have played in boys teams until the age 12.
“You probably saw the story about (NSW Women’s Origin star) Kezie Apps being the best player in Dale Finucane’s team. She couldn’t play anymore until she was an adult. As well as doing (League Stars) to attract girls to the game, we have to make sure we have a pathway which takes them all the way from age 6 to an all aged level so they’re not lost to the game and they have the opportunity to go all the way through.”
Ellis stressed the non-contact emphasis was important in order to draw the maximum number of children to try League Stars for the first time.
“Our sport is about lots of things. It’s about kicking and passing and tackling and fitness and strength and all those sorts of things. Contact and tackling is one element of what our game offers. We understand that as an introductory program, a non-contact version of that will attract the highest number of participants,” Ellis said.
“If we are going to be really popular to a broad market, we understand that an entry-level a non-contact option is a really great start. We absolutely want them to join the tackle version of our game but to get the largest market to start with, the non-contact version is going to be attractive.
“It is getting participants through the door and getting them involved in rugby league, absolutely.”