THE Cronulla Sharks have announced a first-of-its-kind link with touch football that the club hopes will produce a host of exciting future first-grade players.
The club announced the partnership with Taren Point Touch Association last week. It will be known as the Sharks Elite Touch Football Pathway.
A Sharks touch academy will be launched in April after teams in under-10s, -12s, -14s and -16s represent the shire, Taren Point and the Sharks at the state titles in February.
Cronulla's young star Valentine Holmes and local junior Chad Townsend launched the program with Sharks vice-chairman and Taren Point touch player Darren McConnell as well as junior touch players at Shark Park.
McConnell, who has played touch in the shire for 35 years, was proud of the partnership which he said was the first of its kind in the NRL.
"The NRL saw touch as a strategic partnership in terms of their overall participation and we certainly see that as well," he said.
"We've got a lot of boys and girls who during the summer season or out of junior league season want to keep active and touch football is just a natural way to do that.
"So we see it as a great opportunity to blend the two together. The NRL are keen to see how it develops. We really want to lead the way."
The partnership will let young players develop skills like passing, stepping and evading defenders that the club hopes will transfer to league.
Taren Point will continue to run the game locally but representative teams will play under the Cronulla Sharks brand.
McConnell said while the program could be a potential pathway to the NRL, it would also give girls and young women the chance to represent the club on the field for the first time.
"A lot of kids start off in touch and with the pathways we're developing there's no reason why they can't swap over to league with the Sharks eventually," he said.
"You look at players like Shaun Johnson at the Warriors, Benji [Marshall] and Valentine who started in touch so there's plenty of opportunities.
Holmes said he was a big fan of touch and saw several benefits built into his game.
"I loved it. It's a bit fast and you've got to be good at following the ball," he said.
"I reckon touch is the preferred way if you're looking at getting kids to play rugby league because you learn the ball skills and side steps and a lot of skills you need."
What do you think of the link with touch football?