The National Touch League is the peak domestic competition for the sport of Touch Football in Australia. The annual four day competition allows 13 regional permits from across Australia to compete in 12 Divisions including Opens, Mixed and Senior categories. The competition is not only the pinnacle of the Australian domestic competition, but is also the primary selection event for the national representative teams.
The National Touch League was created to replace the ‘Australian Nationals’ which featured the seven Australian states. The finals of this competition were traditionally played between Queensland and New South Wales, the two most dominant touch playing states, with the Australian Capital Territory also performing strongly.
In 1989, there were two Sydney based regions being Region 7 and Region 8. These were divided geographically. The East (coastal) area was called Region 7. Their uniform was navy and white with a lucky 7 dice logo designed by Cary Thompson. The other area was West and named Region 8. Their uniform was red and yellow with an 8 on the logo. The uniforms were produced by Westmont.
In 1990 it was decided that there was enough playing talent to support another Sydney Region and as such boundaries were redrawn. North of the Parramatta River was now Region 9, with aqua, turquoise and black uniform. Brett Gillard designed the Region 9 logo which was incorporated inside the figure 9. It included an aboriginal holding a spear, infrastructure buildings and a Manly ferry and famous Manly pines. Directors of Region 9 included Gary Croft, Peter Casey and Brett Gillard. Between the Parramatta and Cooks River was Region 8 (still maintaining a red and yellow uniform with a change to orange and grey in 1992). South of the Cooks River was Region 7 still with a navy and white uniform.
In 1997 the first “Scorpion” appeared on the Region 9 jersey at the NSW Regionals in Newcastle. At that time the playing colours were changed to a green and white playing top with black shorts and a lone black Scorpion on the playing shirt.
The first National Touch League took place for Regional sides in 1997 at Coffs Harbour, with Sydney Scorpions (Region 9) being represented in the bottle green and navy colours. Region 8 became Sydney Mets (navy and white) and Region 7 became Sydney Rebels (red, white and sky blue).
Success was immediate for the Scorpions with the Men’s Open team winning the first 4 titles in a row – led by the champion and Hall of Famer Mark “Bus” Boland. The Mixed Open team also had some early success at this new National level, with Tony Eltakchi and David Cheung representing. The Senior Divisions were introduced in 1998 and once again Scorpions were had instant success. In those early days the Opens were played at the start of the tournament and then the Seniors at the back end of the week. A small number of players played both Opens & Seniors including Tony Eltakchi and David Cheung which totalled about 6-7 days of touch.
It is widely accepted that the National Touch League (NTL) has increased representative opportunities for players from states outside of NSW & Queensland. While the format of the competition has had some minor amendments the stability of the event has led to the development of fierce rivalries between regions. The traditionally strong Touch Football regions have maintained their dominance of the competition.
At the time of its introduction the NTL was seen as being a move away from the past and step forward in the future development of Touch in Australia. Each of the 12 permit holders was to represent an equal number of registered players, making for a fairer, more competitive tournament. The playing talent is spread far more evenly and it was to give a larger number of players an opportunity to impress for higher representative honours. The NTL was also to provide the players with an important intermediate competition between local and state or national teams.
Sydney Scorpions has been fortunate to win a number of Champion Permit or “Golden Boot” awards. The first of which took place in 2010 at Caloundra, Queensland with Scorpions and the South Queensland Shark joint champions. This was one of the few years the NTL competition has been played away from Coffs Harbour. In that year the Sydney Scorpions Men’s Opens won their first title in 10 years. Many of the Senior teams also enjoyed success, with many of the early Open’s players now playing at a Senior level. Scorpions were runners up by one point in 2011 to the Brisbane City Cobras with further Golden Boots taken out in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Scorpions shared the honours once again with the Sharks in 2015 even after taking out titles in five divisions.
The National Touch League did see a major format change in 2011 with the introduction of the Elite 8 Series. The Elite 8 is played in both the Men’s and Women’s Opens divisions with eight new standalone permits taking the place of the NTL Opens divisions (with only Mixed Opens remaining). Around the same time saw the introduction of the male and female T-League divisions which replaced the 20’s division. These divisions allow for up to six over 20 aged players, the rest needing to be younger players. Initially the feasibility and success of the division was questioned, however each year it has gone from strength to strength and now is an excellent pathway for junior players from NTL to Elite 8.
Initially the Elite 8 was to be played every two years however this soon changed to an annual event. As such it has taken place in 2011, 2013-2018. In 2012 the Elite 8 players from the previous year played in the NTL with the Opens divisions once again available.
In 2011 the NSW Scorpions Men’s were the first title champions and in 2014 the NSW Scorpions Women’s were crowned undefeated champions. As a result Scorpions were the first permit to have won both a Men’s and Women’s Elite 8 title. In 2017 and 2018 the NSW Scorpions Women’s won back to back championship titles – overall winning 3 titles in 5 years and as such dominating the tournament for the Women’s elite division.