New era dawns after historic partnership

New dawn: Wollongong Touch Association's Robert Summers with Illawarra Rugby League's Chris Bannerman. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
New dawn: Wollongong Touch Association's Robert Summers with Illawarra Rugby League's Chris Bannerman. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

The Wollongong Touch Association and Illawarra Rugby League have announced a ground-breaking partnership that will create opportunities for the region’s top touch players.  

The collaboration has resulted in the launch of the Illawarra Premier Touch League, with teams aligned to the Illawarra rugby league clubs facing off in an elite touch football competition. 

Wollongong Touch Association vice-president Tim Robinson said the new competition will provide players in the Illawarra with the opportunity to compete at a high level on a weekly basis. 

“We’re hoping to create pathways for kids and adults that love rugby league and want to play at an elite level,” Robinson said. “They might not like contact rugby league, but love touch and with the new NRL Touch premiership, we’re establishing that pathway. 

“It’s also a way to encourage rugby league players to come over and hone their skills. At the Dragons, Jai Field and Tristan Sailor are former Wollongong touch players and rave about the skills they learnt in touch.”

The inaugural competition will see five Illawarra teams, Helensburgh, Thirroul, Corrimal, Berkeley and Dapto, take part. The 12-week season will kick off at Thomas Dalton Park on Monday night, with Thirroul taking on Berkeley at 6.15.  

Robinson said the competition will boast some of the Illawarra’s most talented touch players, along with a who's who of rugby league players in the region, including Dragons coach Paul McGregor and premiership winner Nathan Fien. 

“Scattered throughout the five teams are current and former Australian representatives, state representatives, some talented juniors and some of our older guys. 

“With no Wests team, Bart Hill will be playing for Corrimal. Nathan Fien has also moved teams and will play for Thirroul after winning a Coal League premiership with them a couple of years ago. Paul McGregor, a Dapto junior will be playing for the Canaries. Terry Deegan and Matt Tope played for Newcastle in the NRL Touch and they’ll be here as well.”

The first-of-its kind partnership comes after the completion of the first season of the six-team NRL Touch premiership. Robinson is hopeful the Illawarra Premier Touch League will pave the way for St George Illawarra to enter the NRL Touch premiership.

“We definitely want St George Illawarra to come to the party. The interest is there, we’re starting at the club level and hopefully it will show how keen we are. The coach of the Knights plus five representative players that played for them are playing in the competition, so the depth is there.”  

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