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Hetherington’s Reserves Outrage

Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington

One man appears hell-bent on ruining the greatest game in the world, because he seemingly has an agenda all of his own!

A few weeks ago Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington declared the announcement of the desired new structure for Super League to be ‘A power grab’ after an 11-1 vote in favour of scrapping the Super 8s and returning to a simple one up, one down promotion/relegation system.

Last week new RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer stated that the governing body of the sport in this country were strong advocates of a competitive Reserves League and that he was sure that 2019 would see many more clubs running Reserves teams than currently do, presumably with clubs who ran them previously reinstating their Reserves teams.

One can only imagine Hetherington almost passing out with shock at Rimmer’s statement, then trying desperately to form an argument against the idea of a Reserves League, which clearly doesn’t suit his own agenda!

In his interview with League Express, Hetherington claims “Our reserve grade is our Academy which is now producing players of Super League standard and quite a few of them.

“This year Cameron Smith, Jack Walker, Mikolaj Oledzki and Harry Newman, all Academy-aged players, have been playing in our first team this year. And Widnes have benefited tremendously in the same manner.

“Those Academy players who get beyond the age of 19 who don’t make our first-team, they then populate the rest of the game free of charge, which tends to be the Championship. That’s for the benefit of the wider game.

“Of those players that graduate into Super League and play more than 20 first-team games, in almost all cases they’ve done it by the age of 18. There are few examples where a player makes his debut in his twenties and play a lot of games.”

It is at this point when the Leeds CEO turns on Rimmer in a frankly astonishing attack, of the type that would usually draw a big fine for anybody else in recent years, which will inevitably lead to people wondering about a hidden agenda!

Hetherington said: “I think a lot of what is said is based on ignorance. What Ralph Rimmer has got to do is back that statement up with actual fact and explanation. It’s an easy statement to make. He should now be challenged to back that up with facts, statistics and information based on the number of players playing the game and how the RFL are failing in that responsibility.

“He shouldn’t be allowed to just make a statement like that without challenge and a convincing argument that implementing a new competition that would cost money and threaten Academy and community clubs. If every club has to find another 25 to 30 players, it will inevitably have to start pilfering the community game and the Championship.
The Rhinos chief then ranted on about what he believes is the best way of developing young players, including the ludicrous dual registration system, sending young players to Championship clubs.

He said: “The biggest single factor in all this is what will aid the development of players the most, and we believe playing in the Championship helps them more than anything else. That should be the number one criterion when we look at this.”

He then goes off on another tangent stating: “The fundamental issue everyone seems to overlook is the chronic shortage of young players participating. That is our biggest challenge, to get more and more teenagers playing. All the professional clubs are fishing in the same pond and we don’t have the same wealth of numbers that say the NRL clubs enjoy.”

Looking at the statement it does seem to have some fair points, such as a shortage of young players, which has been well documented, but to say that basically Rimmer had no business making such a statement, when every other Super League club are pushing for a Reserves League to be made compulsory, is frankly embarrassing.

Hetherington also rightly points out that it will cost clubs money to run a Reserve team, but again he seems to have gone off half-cocked on this, when you consider that lower league clubs like Halifax, Keighley and Bradford all find the money to run a Reserve team, that appears to put that argument to bed.

To give an idea of the benefits of having a Reserve team, one only has to go back to 2016, that season the coveted Top 4 positions in Super League were occupied by Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors, Hull FC and St. Helens, with the silverware on offer being gobbled up by the Wolves, the Warriors and the Airlie Birds, these four teams were the only four Super League clubs to run Reserves teams that year.

After winning the LLS, then Warrington coach Tony Smith said in his press conference that you only had to look at who the Top 4 were that year to understand the benefit of having a Reserve team, taking into account cost, like a team coach to transport the team to games, feeding players after games etc, it was all easily justifiable by one look at the Super League table.

The next point of argument with what Hetherington has said is his assumption that players are better developed playing in the Championship, I spoke about this in a previous article, following Hull FC Reserves around, I saw them benefit from playing against both emerging and established Super League players, what helps players develop better, is playing for their club, in their colours against players that they could easily be facing a few weeks later in Super League, not going and playing for a different team, with different players they don’t know, with different structures in place.

Once again Gary Hetherington is basically setting himself against Super League, but also the RFL and even some lower league clubs, what he has achieved at Leeds has been nothing short of remarkable, but is it now maybe time for him to be removed, before he ruins everything the game is working for?

Also of note in Hetherington’s statement is his quote about Widnes benefiting tremendously from using Academy players in Super League, as well as Leeds. Looking at their current situation, without wishing to seem patronising, it is easy to form an argument that neither are currently benefiting from it, with one being bottom 4 regulars and the other seemingly on their way to becoming that.

Building on that, you would have to ask the question, using dual registration, with clubs in the Championship, what then happens to the players who have played on dual registration, can they play against their parent club who they signed a contract with, or are they left out?

Ralph Rimmer made his statement because 11 Super League clubs have expressed a desire for a Reserves League, indeed Super League CEO Robert Elstone stated himself, as we all know, that maybe it should be made compulsory for a club to run a Reserve team before they can enter Super League, in my humble opinion Ralph Rimmer HAD to say something, it was not then Hetherington’s position to so publicly berate him for it, Rimmer said it was up to clubs if they wanted to run a Reserve team, Hetherington should have stuck to giving Leeds position on this, not to lay into him the way that he did, why did he? I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

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