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Touch football will make a historic leap in 2018 with the announcement of an NRL premiership competition where games will be played as curtain-raisers before first-grade fixtures from next month.
The six-team competition will see three NSW-based and three Queensland NRL clubs draw on touch football’s best male and female players for the inaugural premiership, starting in round 11 on May 18.
Two 30-minute touch games – men’s and women’s – will lead into relevant NRL matches, with broadcast partner Fox Sports to televise the contests through a mix of live and delayed coverage.
The competition will last for seven rounds in total, with Touch Football Australia CEO Steve Mitchell lauding the chance to showcase touch football to a wider audience in the same year the sport celebrates its 50th anniversary.
NRL counterpart Todd Greenberg declared the new competition the “first step in a much bigger journey that we can make”, with Mitchell hoping the closer NRL association could one day lead touch football to its own professional competition.
“This is a diversification piece, similar to cricket where you’ve got multiple formats of the game… this reaches a new community, a different demographic, it’s short-form and a really exciting piece for the rugby league family,” Mitchell said on Wednesday.
“(The competition will be) absolutely amateur at first, and that will probably be the case for the first couple of seasons.
“But the more we can build the more we can build that, the more profile we can give it, the more people we can get involved the more commercially attractive it becomes.
“We’d love to be in a position where we can do something semi-professional with our athletes.”
Participating NRL clubs will be unveiled over the next month, with each outfit fielding a men’s and women’s side in separate competitions.
It’s understood the governing bodies and not players will be footing the bill when it comes to travel and playing expenses.
Boasting 613,000 participants, touch football has proven a breeding ground for some of the NRL’s brightest talent, with the likes of Benji Marshall, Kalyn Ponga, Valentine Holmes and Shaun Johnson all honing their skills in the non-contact sport before graduating to league.
“The quality of what you’ll see on the field, the quality of the product of touch football is fantastic,” Greenberg said.
“But more than that it’s so inclusive because it’s men and women playing so I expect (the new competition) to be an unbelievably strong success.”