Otago well represented in new touch league

Otago's top touch talent is set to get regular high-level competition this summer.

Two new leagues offer a step between representative play on both a local and national level.

That begins this week as the national Premier Touch League (PTL) and Otago Premier League (OPL) get under way.

Five Otago men and 11 Otago women will play for Te Waipounamu, the South Island franchise in the PTL.

Dayna Turnbull and Atawhai Hotene will co-captain the women's side. The women's team will also be coached by Damian Burden and managed by Toni Wall, while Kyle Newton assistant coaches the men.

Otago will also supply three referees.

Consisting of four teams in each the men's and women's competitions, the league will be played over four weekends.

Teams play twice each day, before playoffs on November 24 in Auckland.

Otago Touch Association development officer Jarrod Powell said it would be key in bridging the gap to the international level.

It was a similar step to the one Super Rugby provided provincial players to reach the All Blacks.

''I think just the strength in sides, you're getting more of the cream of the crop,'' he said.

''In terms of how the tournament's going to be run, you're going to have elite refs as well.

''That's just going to up the standard of the feeling of being at a prestige tournament, like being at a World Cup for a transtasman.

''The pace of the game and the atmosphere and the fact it's being live streamed, it helps bridge that gap there.''

He said it was great to have so many Otago people involved.

The region had been performing well in schools and age-groups and he said that was now translating to the senior level.

It could also help grow the game's following.

Having a league like this and the national rugby league's touch competition - which was on Sky Sport - gave people a chance to follow teams and players.

Watching games was a great way for young players to learn, Powell said, and having more high-level touch easily accessible would increase that opportunity.

A similar concept is beginning on a local level too, through the OPL - a brainchild of Dayna Turnbull.

The OPL also has four franchises - the Roosters, Royals, Rebels and Raiders - which players have been drafted into.

Each has a men's and women's team and will compete for an overall trophy.

It has the same idea of providing a step between school and local touch to the national championships later in the summer.

Games are played on Thursday nights at Bishopscourt, beginning tonight.

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