Premiership-winning top grade coach Adam Bettridge says the Newcastle RL’s new Under 19’s program is the perfect pathway for young players to transition into senior footy.
Newcastle officials Matt Harris and Adam Devcich along with Bettridge launched a new competition and representative program at McDonald Jones Stadium on Wednesday.
The competition, to be played between May and August, will feature the eight district clubs in stand-alone Friday night double-header matches under lights.
The teams will also play in Futures matches before or after first grade during the season with a player from each club eventually invited to trial with the Knights at the end of the year.
The Emerging Rebels representative squad, which Macquarie top grade coach Bettridge will be in charge of, will be selected for a mid-season clash against a Penrith representative youth squad and an end-of-season trip to Melbourne to play a Victorian side.
Bettridge, who is chasing back-to-back first grade premierships with the Scorpions in 2018, is excited to be involved with the new Under 19’s initiative.
“I think it’s a great program and hopefully, it will encourage young guys to stick around in rugby league,”he said.
“It’s probably not so much a pathway to the NRL but more a pathway to playing first grade at local level.
“I don’t think there is too much wrong with young blokes striving to play 100 first grade games in Newcastle and trying to play representative footy for Newcastle.
“I’d like to bring the history of the game here back into it and show these kids exactly what they can strive for.
“We’ll bring a squad together and we will pick kids from every club to give them an opportunity.”
Bettridge said it’s important young players are given an incentive to keep playing the game.
“Boys at this age turn into men obviously and they get jobs and girlfriends and responsibilities and probably life career paths change so it is a hard age group to keep boys playing,”he said.
“We see it being a very strong competition this year and by encouraging these 19-year-olds to stick around, and this is something we hope will do that, we are hoping to see the format grow.
“They are the future of the game. We can talk about first grade all we want but in five years time, these are the kids we are going to be talking about.
“Hopefully, with myself coaching and some other experienced staff around us, these kids will get a better idea of what’s required to play first grade around here and hopefully, we can give them a good program that they will get plenty out of.”