The Rugby Football League have agreed a new partnership with the England Touch Association which will involve the two governing bodies working more closely together in a formal relationship from 2022.
Wigan Warriors recently announced that they would be forming in a new touch rugby team for 2022, as well as the Foundations of Hull FC, Hull KR, Leeds Rhinos, Newcastle Thunder and Warrington Wolves entered a new Foundation Touch series of events, with men’s and women’s teams involved.
Simon Johnson, the RFL Chair, said: “This is a good fit for both organisations, as we aim to increase the number of people of all ages who enjoy Rugby League and Touch Rugby as a way of being fit, active, healthy and happy. The structure of Touch Rugby is similar to Rugby League, making it easy to pick up and fun to play – at whatever level. We believe more people can discover Rugby League through Touch Rugby, just as more people can discover Touch Rugby through Rugby League.”
England Touch Chair Mark Croston – a former RFL Vice President – attended the RFL Foundation events and says that they can be a blueprint for project working between the two organisations, adding: “I took the opportunity to attend the first event in Wigan, and was delighted to see the Wigan Rugby League brand embracing our sport on a more formal basis.
“The fact is that every rugby player will play Touch, probably every week, if not every practice session, so if we can grow the number of people participating, supporting and viewing both sports we will benefit in so many ways.”
Marc Lovering, the RFL’s Director of Participation and Development, added: “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the ETA over the last few years with significant crossover of personnel.
“To formalise that agreement and work to grow Touch will be a great step forwards.They have some great pathways in place for players at all levels and we really see our focus supporting the development of more players which is becoming a focus area we identified to collaborate on.
“This newly formed partnership with the England Touch Association offers an excellent opportunity to offer players a pathway into Rugby League. We currently have a long-standing relationship with Try Tag Rugby and that has seen a surge in players taking up a playing offer with minimal contact and a reduced travel commitment.
“We have a growth strategy that looks to build a more flexible range of playing offers working with partners with specific expertise. We have such a good network of partners and relationships which will see us go from strength to strength offering alternatives supplementing the traditional 13-a-side contact game.”
Touch Rugby and Rugby League have been closely linked for the last 50 years, ever since South Sydney RL players first used a minimal contact sport to stay fit during the summer months.
Since then Touch Rugby has grown substantially, with tens of nations affiliated to the Federation of International Touch and thousands of players taking part in World Cups and European Championships.
England will host the next European Championships in 2022 in Nottingham – delayed by Covid-19 considerations, like the Rugby League World Cup – as reigning champions and third-ranked nation in the world.
Domestically the ETA has expanded exponentially since its founding 25 years ago and now has around 130 affiliated clubs and leagues, with thousands of players of all ages, genders and backgrounds picking up a ball and running with it.
Touch Rugby players are also making the transition into the professional and semi-pro Rugby League ranks on both sides of the globe.
In Australia and New Zealand, players such as Shaun Johnson and Ryan Papenhuyzen have highlight reels as exciting from their days in Touch Rugby as in the NRL, while in the Women’s Super League former England Touch age group international Orla McCallion was going head to head against Chantelle Crowl when Leeds Rhinos met St Helens in the Grand Final, with England RL international Crowl having been a regular player for a number of Manchester-based Touch Rugby clubs in her formative years.
Sammie Phillips, England Touch’s National Development Officer, said: “We’ve seen in Australia with the NRL and Touch Football Australia how much a positive and proactive partnership can be mutually beneficial, and by working closely together with the RFL we can grow both of our respective codes across England.
“We will be working together to get more people choosing to pick up a ball and run with it as their sport of choice, and then giving them the opportunity to progress within our respective codes, whether as a social or competitive player, and to potentially use their skills in both.
“We believe that community Rugby League clubs will view this partnership as an opportunity to include Touch Rugby in their own offering, and it will be fantastic to welcome them into the England Touch community, at whatever level they choose to engage with us.
“Having the Rugby League World Cup and European Touch Championships both in England in the same year is a unique opportunity for us to amplify the interest in our sports and to maximise participation across all ages, genders and backgrounds. We’re looking forward to working with our friends and colleagues at the RFL to achieve both our aims.”