Reserve league should take priority over salary cap

Super League reserves

Welcome back to From The Terraces, the weekly column where I choose a hot topic within the rugby league community, and discuss my opinions. This week I look at the recent increased salary cap and discuss how we can benefit more by investing in our reserves.

This past week, we finally had some good news in relation to our sport. Proposals to increase the Super League salary cap were approved by the RFL board of directors.

A vote by the clubs to increase their spending on player wages from the current maximum of £1.825m to £2.1m by 2020 needed ratification from the governing body, which gave the green light at a meeting in Manchester on Thursday afternoon. All this means the measures will come into force from the start of the 2018 season, when the cap rises initially to £1.9m.

Now, all this is great, and it’s good to see the salary cap being raised. However, while all this is going on, it means the clubs are gaining more money, yet they still won’t commit to putting some of their money into a reserve team, and a proper academy system, that won’t only help us produce young, English talent. But it’d also help our sport dramatically.

So, if the clubs can afford to increase the salary cap, then why not the reserves?

The whole point of a reserve team is to help produce young talent, and improve our game. Now, the whole marquee player is good in my mind. It’s great to be able to sign that one big player, whether it be from the NRL or another Super League side.

“But where are our next marquee players from? Where are the next juniors in this country coming from? Because currently, if they’re not good enough, at 19 they’re thrown on the scrap heap.”

 (Lee Briers to the League Express)

There are currently only four Super League clubs who have an ‘A’ team (reserve side) – Wigan, Warrington, Hull FC and St Helens.

Meanwhile, the other eight Super League clubs run academy sides up to the under-19s, but that is where is stops and there is no other level between that and the first team. Salford and Leigh aren’t even running under-19 sides this year.

The four reserve teams play each other three times a year, so that’s just a nine-game season. How can any young player learn the game and be ready for the huge step-up by not competing in a full season, against fresh opponents every week?

“Under 19s to Super League is an enormous jump, ideally we’d love our own competition reserve grade.”

 (Kris Radlinski to the BBC)

Players can be loaned out or duel-registered with Championship or League 1 sides to help their development, so at least there is something. But this is clearly not enough, at all. With all due respect to all the clubs down in the Championship and League 1, the level between playing in one of their first teams, compared to a Super League side, is much different.

With how the reserve system is, managers of the four clubs with reserve sides, are still forced to use the dual-registration, as their players are not learning enough.

I think it is about time that the RFL compel all Super League clubs to invest in a reserve side, and help improve not only their club, but the sport itself. It’s not even the most expensive system to set up, and run. Here is Warrington coach Tony Smith on their reserve set-up:

“It hasn’t been expensive – it cost us £35,000 all-up last year, and it was well-spent.”

(Tony Smith to the Wigan Today)

It’s just mind-boggling to me, and many others as to why the RFL won’t come down on this. This shouldn’t even be a decision given to the clubs, as the whether they want to invest. It should become a mandatory set-up, that clubs must invest and compete in.

The RFL are being backed into a corner by the other eight Super League clubs as they are clearly stating that they don’t want any part of it. So, the RFL will feel that if they force the club’s hands, that not much detail and effort will go into producing quality, young players.

When you look at Wigan. They constantly produce quality, young talent to the first team, and many of them have gone on to be full-time first teamers.

It’ll obviously take time, money and effort. But, if it is done right, and the clubs use the right coaches and scouts, then our game can be dramatically improved with the introduction of a full-time reserve league.

This concludes the twelfth edition of From The Terraces. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on the reserves, and whether we should be investing more money into it, in the comments below.