Academy investment paying dividends

Academy investment paying dividends

A total of seven current or graduates from the Counties Manukau Rugby Academy have been named in the 2022 PIC Steelers NPC squad highlighting the good work done in the space in the past couple of years.

Current Academy members Kauvaka Kaivelata, Jadin Kingi, Sam Tuifua, Thor Manase, Tevita Ofa and Esau Filimoehala as well as recent graduate Ioane Moananu have come through the program that has undergone a reset over the past couple of seasons.

Counties Manukau Rugby’s Head of High-Performance Chad Shepherd has overseen the significant shift in the Academy over the past 18 months.

“In 2020 when I took over the role as Head of High-Performance we did a bit of a SWOT analysis in the academy space on how we could provide a high performing and meaningful academy programme and a pathway to the Steelers,” Shepherd said.

“Ultimately, we want to grow, empower and inspire our young men by instilling Pride in the Hoops, which ultimately leads to a sense of identity, belonging and an emotional attachment to the Union.

“We started with recruitment and processes around this space in regards to talent ID and tweaking some systems and structures within the academy to provide a product where high potential young men can accelerate their development. The philosophy is to recruit local talent first and foremost as well as players with a connection to the Union, however the reality is that this is a high-performance space so, where needed, we look to recruit from outside the province to grow future Steelers.”

To be able to put together the plan, there needed to be funding and that is never easy in this modern age where every dollar counts.

“We identified that we needed more investment in the academy space to sign some high potential young players as the market is very competitive,” Shepherd explained. “A few conversations were had with our now chairman Gary Millington, who is very passionate about the academy space, and he got some local legends and ex-Steelers and local businessmen in Rod Ketels, Michael Scott and Dean Littin involved to sponsor the Steelers Academy.

“This investment has been a game changer in the sense it has helped us to really grow the program.”

The hard work and financial commitment is starting to really show dividends with current selections backing up the anecdotal evidence of major improvements.

“In the past there probably hasn’t been a high level of squad consistency within the Steelers – by this I mean the bulk of the squad remaining together for a number of years to build cohesion,” Shepherd said. “So there is a real focus of promoting from within the academy space, but in order for this to happen we needed to make sure that the program is designed to set these young men up for success and prepare them for the rigours of NPC, and we need to recruit the right players who have the potential to make the step up to NPC level and beyond.

“We want to make Counties Manukau their Union of choice by delivering a good product.

“It’s great to see six of our current academy in the Steelers this season - these guys have put in a huge amount of work to get to where they currently are and are making the most of their opportunity.”