From experienced weekend players to those pulling on their boots for the first time, the Newcastle Knights Knockout continues to showcase the best of junior rugby league in the region.
The Knights Knockout has continued to surge from strength to strength with the 2015 event seeing a considerable increase in participant numbers.
The competition, which has been running since the inception of the Club in 1988, kicked off its primary divisions on Thursday at a number of venues in the Hunter including Lambton, Waratah, Windale, Glendale and Valentine.
“On last year’s numbers, the Knights have signed up 14 new teams, which is an equivalent of approximately 210 new players,” Newcastle Knights NSW Cup Coach and Community Rugby League Manager Matt Lantry said.
“It’s a tremendous credit to the teachers of the local primary schools in the Newcastle, Maitland and North Coast region that are providing an opportunity for the kids to come and play in a fun and safe environment.”
One of the unique aspects of the sporting events is its inclusiveness and focus on catering for all levels of playing ability and experience.
“You don’t have to be a weekend registered player to play in the competition,” Lantry said.
“We have a number of teams that participates with a number of girls involved which is also good to see.
“What it does is give to those kids is an exposure to rugby league.
“It's also a way to show the mums and dads standing on the sideline that what they see in the NRL is not what happens on a Saturday morning with their junior rugby league club."
For Lantry, the phenomenal number of participants is a sign of growth in interest in junior rugby league in the area.
“All up, 4500 kids between the ages of 10 and 16 years are playing rugby league between the months of May and June in the Knights Knockout competition,” he said.
The knockout is set to continue with an additional 2500 players between the ages of 13 and 16 participating across seven zones over the next month.
Lantry explains a school that illustrates the spirit of the competition is St Brigid’s Raymond Terrace.
“Mark Wilson (teacher) has always had a focus on enjoyment and participation before he worries about winning any type of competition,” he added.
“For a school that has decent numbers, he’s entered two teams in the Open A division.
“We get 20 more kids per age group having a crack at footy because he’s all about providing the opportunities for kids to play rugby league.”
He also adds the monumental sporting event would cease to exist without the assistance of its supporters.
“It’s an enormous effort from a staffing perspective to make sure we meet the requirements for each ground,” he said.
“We also rely on the junior rugby league clubs who volunteer their time to run the canteens and allow access to their venues.
“It’s a good fun day and I think it’s a quality standard of competition in the way of playing.
“We believe we do a good job and the teachers see that as well and enjoy being a part of a well run competition that’s serviced and staffed well.”
The final two teams standing at the end of the day win after winning their semis go through the grand final, which will be played on July 15 at Hunter Stadium.
“We create a real game-like atmosphere in and around the grand final day to give the kids a memorable experience playing at the stadium,” he said.
The teams that win our grand final are given the opportunity to represent the Newcastle and Hunter Valley regions at the All Schools (State) Knockout in Sydney.
“In the last few years we’ve had some good success at state level which shows there’s plenty of talent within our junior league areas," he said.
“We have a number of players within our system that have played in the Knights Knockout."
Lantry’s involvement with the competition has turned full circle. As a junior, the Knights’ reserve grade coach played in the Knights Knockout for Rutherford Public and Rutherford High School
“I came through as a player in the Open Bs in the under 10s and then went through to play 13s, 14s, 15s and 16s,” he said.
“As a player you always want to play in the competition, and now to be able to facilitate it it’s great.
“We want to keep providing opportunities for those kids.
“The big thing is ensuring the experience that’s provided to them encourages players to go across and sign with a local Club.
“If you haven’t found a sport for 2015 in the winter, it’s not too late to sign up with your junior rugby league club."