Northern Ireland conference set for kick off

Rugby league in Northern Ireland is set for a major boost when the newly-instituted ‘Northern Ireland RL Conference’ kicks off this month.

Four teams – Strangford Sharks, East Belfast Bulldogs, Ballinahinch Bulls and Portadown Pumas – will play regular season fixtures throughout the summer, culminating in a Grand Final in an effort to showcase the sport throughout the province.

To begin the campaign, the four clubs plus Antrim Storm – who hope to join the Conference in 2010 – will launch the competition with the NI RL 9’s at Portadown RFC on Saturday 16th May, kicking off at 12.30pm.

One of the leading lights behind the inaugural league is one of the sports youngest ever internationals, former London Broncos full back Gavin Gordon, who made his debut for Ireland in the 1995 Emerging Nations World Cup, having just turned 17.

A founder, player/coach and organiser at Strangford, he has high hopes for the new set up.

“We are based in Donaghadee in North Down and play out of the local rugby union club, who have been very co-operative and helpful to help ensure we have a home” he said.

“It was incredibly encouraging to see 19 players turn up for the first ever training session this Wednesday, with more to follow, on the back of a few flyers, word of mouth and the website I set up www.strangfordsharks.com. My wife, Lucy, has been the creative force behind setting up the club – her ideas have been critical in getting this off the ground.”

“I initially hoped to attract local rugby union players to our game and provide a platform from which League can grow in Northern Ireland but have already had interest from soccer and Gaelic football players who have been along, which is highly encouraging” he added.

“I can see this initial season evolving into a larger league next year, players who traditionally play winter sports over here have seen the light, literally, and will come out to train and play in the sun over the summer months and they will be itching for more games.”

“We are not looking too far ahead at the moment but there are logical link ups with what is happening in the south of Ireland, the Rugby League Conference over the water and the Irish national team that performed so well in the recent World Cup and are due on the field again in this autumn’s European Cup.”

The regular season games will all be staged as double headers in a festival atmosphere in an effort to make maximum impact.

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