A leading State official has declared the Border’s annual tournament a pivotal part of Australia’s development.
Sixty-two teams will contest the week-long event.
“This is part of the development pathway for players to go on to national championships at under 16 and 18 levels,” South Australia Country Cup director Bert Bargeus said.
“It’s fundamental for those pathways that the kids come here first and it’s an opportunity for coaches to see them in championship-type conditions.”
More than 90 players who’ve contested the tournament have represented Australia or New Zealand at international events.
“It’s an opportunity to represent your State and wear the State colours,” Bargeus said.
“And with this type of event, because most States send two teams in their age group, you can have 30 kids in the under 14 age group and 20 in the other age divisions (such as South Australia), whereas at a national championships, it’s only the basic 10.”
Six-hundred and twenty players will contest the titles, which has players from NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.
The event is now in its 33rd year with the Kiwis becoming an integral component around halfway through its life.
“They always do the haka at the opening and closing ceremony and it does add a lot of colour and excitement,” Bargeus said.
“For people who haven’t been before, like some of the under 14s and their parents, it’s quite a thrill to see 100 players doing the haka with some gusto, it’s quite a moving experience.”
In previous campaigns, teams from Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, China and Oceania have competed, but the tournament has generally settled around that 60-65 mark.
There’s three age divisions, under 14, 16 and 18.
Victoria dominated last year’s series at the upper age, with the Bushrangers snaring the senior division, while the Goldminers claimed the girls’ title.
A handful of Albury-Wodonga teams will also compete, but rather than being genuine contenders, it allows Border youngsters the opportunity to play at a higher level.
The grand finals and closing ceremony will be held at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre on Saturday.
And as well as the players, the tournament also attracts around 150 coaches or team managers and about 90 referees, making up around 860 visitors.
Given a number of families use it for their annual holiday, the tournament attracts around 1500 people, making it one of the Border’s biggest events and providing an enormous economic boost to Albury-Wodonga.
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