Wollongong to host Oztag tournament

OZTAG

Wollongong will play host to the world's largest ever Oztag tournament when 273 teams from across the state flock to Dalton Park for the NSW Junior State Cup on Friday.

For tournament director and former NRL whistleblower Bill Harrigan, the three-day extravaganza is a far cry from the inaugural event in 2005.

"Our very first Junior State Cup back in 2005 had 56 teams and we ran it on a Saturday at Tempe ... all over and done with," Harrigan said.

"Now we've got 273 teams and I was knocking teams back because I couldn't fit them all in.

"It's run over three full days starting at a quarter to nine in the morning right through to 7.30-8 o'clock at night.

"We're using Dalton Park with 22 fields running in each time slot, so it's huge."

Harrigan attributes the rapid growth in the sport, which mimics rugby league more closely than touch football, to the way in which it allows youngsters to emulate their NRL heroes.

"I'll never get in and say one game is better than the other but it is more like rugby league [than touch] - they're just not getting tackled," Harrigan said.

"We've seen a significant growth rate, particularly in the juniors.

"We had 500 teams domestically during this past summer season and we've had to increase our State Cup by 40 teams this year.

"The kids love the tagging system, they love that you can still kick the ball and the girls can get in there and play without getting knocked around.

"The tagging is an art. You can run through a hole and, if they miss the tag, you're on your way."

This year will be the second time Wollongong has hosted the $2.2-million event, with the seniors to follow suit next weekend.

Harrigan said a decision on a venue for next year's event was yet to be made but didn't rule out a return to Wollongong in 2015 for the junior event at least.

He said the executive would make that decision.

"This year we spilled over to 273 teams, so we needed to move to Guest Park for the Friday.

"I expect 300 teams next year so we need to ask: can we accommodate it? Is there another venue regionally that we can go to? And then sit down with council down here and see what they're prepared to do and whether they can continue to accommodate it."

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