Crusaders Academy coordinator Chris Goodman, centre, with players Curtis Pedersen-Line, left and Fletcher Matthews at Trafalgar Park.
The Crusaders have launched the country's first Super Rugby aligned academy in Nelson and Christchurch and their intention is develop professional players within three years.
"That's the ultimate goal – to be a Crusader – and I think it's an achievable goal," academy coordinator Chris Goodman said.
The Crusaders Academy replaces the former Tasman and Canterbury academies, merging all of those resources and aims together to widen the talent base available to the Super Rugby franchise.
Crusaders Academy player Fletcher Matthews at Trafalgar Park.
The Crusaders Academy will have two bases, one in Nelson and one in Christchurch, and academy manager Aaron Webb said the purpose of the change to the Crusaders Academy is to allow more opportunities for players from within the Crusaders catchment area to advance their careers without having to move away from home.
"With both a Christchurch and Nelson base, we can capture more of the local talent within the Crusaders region. We want to provide a pathway to both provincial representative rugby and to the Crusaders, and this new academy structure will make that pathway clearer and also allow more players to follow that path while remaining close to home," Webb said.
Goodman, who is a former rugby development officer with the Tasman Rugby Union, said it's the perfect match as it provides a clear pathway for players from Nelson and Marlborough to realise their professional rugby dream. "This is the first stepping stone and you've got to have that relationship to secure those players. Ideally they'll come in at 18 and stay in the programme for three years. We'll give them all the tools inside and outside of rugby to succeed."
Marlborough-based Crusaders Academy player Curtis Pedersen-Line, 18, at Trafalgar Park.
Eighteen players have been selected for the Nelson-based academy, with the focus between the ages of 18 and 22.
The weekly programme will vary, but it is likely to include two sessions a week covering everything from physical, mental and life skills – so cooking might be on the agenda the same week as a speed session.
Curtis Pedersen-Line is one of three former Marlborough Boys' College players to be selected in the academy, joining Te Hauora Campbell and Bevan Moody, although Campbell is now playing his club rugby with Nelson.
Pedersen-Line is an apprentice builder and said he grew up wanting to play Super Rugby. Though he had not set any goals outside of playing for the Tasman under-19 team, the 18-year-old Central halfback said he was eager to learn in his first year with the academy and would be making the trip over to Nelson at least twice a week.
Wanderers outside back Fletcher Matthews is studying applied fitness at NMIT. He received a scholarship through NMIT's partnership with the Tasman Rugby Union and said, with the resources available to him through the academy system, he was happy to continue his development in Nelson. "Guys from Canterbury have come up and helped and we've got good support from Tasman and they've all joined together which has been really good. We've got everything we need," he said.
"I've noticed a big difference already. There's a lot more structure in what we're doing and everyone has a clear idea of our expectations so it's really good."
Goodman said there a lot of untapped resources in Tasman and he expected plenty of input from Tasman Makos coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald, and also former Nelson-based Crusaders like Chris Jack. "There's a lot of guys we're starting to shoulder tap now, guys who have been professional players, and we're hoping in the next month to buddy the players up with a mentor."
Former Nelson College prop Tom Hill, a current New Zealand under-20 squad member, is part of the Christchurch-based academy.
Nelson-based Crusaders Academy players: Te Hauora Campbell, Curtis Pedersen-Line, Quinten Strange, Cory Whakatihi, Brendan Asomua-Goodman, Denvour Kiel, Trent Reti, Tone Ng Shiu, Bevan Moody, Sam Liebezeit, Fletcher Matthews, Ethan Blackadder, Stein Schrieber, Andrew Knewstubb, Nathan Baxter, Trael Joass, Tim Coman, Dan Mclauchlan.