Every sport has its issues, and dealing with them can be a trickier task than first thought. It’s safe to say Rugby League has its fair share of problems, none more so than the lack of development in place for young players, according to Sky Sports’ pundit Phil Clarke.
The former Wigan Warriors’ second-rower highlighted the issue in the wake of Wigan’s defeat at Hull FC, where both sides turned to their youth to try and find the win. Whilst trying not to focus on injuries, Clarke spoke about the impact of young players:
“Every team has its injuries. Every squad has around 30 players in it for that very reason so I’m not really too focused on the injuries.
“If you talked about all the players who weren’t playing every week, you’d never really get to focus on the action. What’s better is the fact that Wigan are giving young players a chance and those players are doing particularly well.
“I think the challenge is for the other sides outside of Super League to develop their own young players.”
Although these young players are performing admirably for their chosen first teams, the problems lie when the first teamers come back from injury, with Clarke stating dual-registration isn’t the answer to progress young players.
“What’s the biggest issue for the game is the fact that there’s no real second team competition, that allows the development of a young player, dual-registration hasn’t particularly worked.
“For example, you look at a player called Danny Richardson, who plays scrum-half for St Helens, he started the season (but) unfortunately, he’s not in the squad at the moment. I don’t think he’s played a game of Rugby League in the last five weeks.
“That’s certainly not helping him to get better. I understand that some young players play too many games but a lot of our good young players don’t play enough games.
“(Dual-registrations) is almost like a Japanese endurance test, ‘okay, you’re playing for the South Wales Scorpions this week, and you have to get in a car, drive 200 miles, train and play for them down there’. When you’ve no affinity to them, and you don’t even know what colour kit they wear, so it’s difficult.”
Clarke went on to address what, in his opinion, he feels is needed to make sure young players develop in the right way so they can then go on to become regular first team players in the future.
“I think the biggest issue we need to try and readdress is finding a sensible second team structure that allows young players to play about 25 games a season at a reasonable standard, with players at a similar level.”
Many young players come through because of injuries to a team, with Hull FC full-back Jamie Shaul a prime example. Shaul was too old for the U20’s team, not getting chosen by FC, and playing out of position for York on dual-registration. Clarke was quick to point out what might have happened if injuries hadn’t opened the door for Shaul.
“But how many of them (players in the same situation that Shaul was in) are missed though? If there hadn’t have been a player injured in that position, he doesn’t get in.
“He drops out of the game at 21, he might go play Rugby Union, or might play league at amateur. But there’s so much talent wasted and missed that we need to do better to catch because we only have a pretty small pool anyway of players playing Rugby League.”
Despite several people voicing their concerns about dual-registration and the need for a proper reserve league, the RFL are yet to make any plans to change the current structure below Super League.