The University of New England (UNE) has extended its partnership with NSW Rugby League, announcing it will "power" the state’s brightest young talent as the official naming rights sponsor of Junior Representative competitions for Under-16 and 18 boys, starting this weekend (10 February).

While the NSWRL senior competitions start next month, the SG Ball Cup (Under-18 boys) and Harold Matthews Cup (Under-16 boys), both powered by UNE, will kick-off on Saturday, with the Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup (Under-18 girls) starting last night, with matches being played at various venues around the country including Sydney, Shellharbour, Canberra and Perth.

UNE's support of the Junior Representative competitions is in addition to their recently-announced partnership which will allow the University’s sport and exercise science teaching facilities to base at the NSWRL Centre of Excellence, with UNE providing research and sports science services to NSWRL.​

UNE Chancellor James Harris is delighted that the partnership will help the university connect with people involved in grassroots Rugby League, and those who follow the State of Origin series.

“The expertise of our sports scientists will also be used to support the growth and development of players across all levels of the game,” Mr Harris said.

"We believe this is as an exciting prospect for both the athletes and scientists involved.”

NSWRL Chief Operating Officer Stuart Clark said: “The NSWRL is excited to extend our commercial partnership with UNE for our junior competitions.

“This partnership further cements our commercial relationship with UNE into the future. Our juniors will benefit from the sports science initiatives as well as the extensive education options offered by UNE.”

The 2018 junior representative season kicked off last night (Thursday, 8 February) as Newcastle and St George opened their campaigns in the Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup. The competition’s maiden premiers Penrith will begin their title defence against the Wests Tigers, while Canterbury will have to wait until Round 6 to avenge last year’s grand final heartache.

The best up-and-coming Under-18 boys will take centre-stage on Saturday, with SG Ball Cup premiers and national champions Parramatta kicking-off the competition in Perth against the West Coast Pirates. Old rivals the Roosters and Bulldogs meet in an opening-round blockbuster at Henson Park, while the perennially successful Panthers play host to the Balmain Tigers in Penrith.

In the Harold Matthews Cup, defending premiers Newcastle will enter the new season aiming to claim their third title in five years. The team from the Hunter begin their season against St George in Cessnock, while traditional rivals Manly and North Sydney meet at Brookvale Oval for early season bragging rights.

For all the full NSWRL Junior Representative draws, click here.