The Benefits of a Reserve Grade

It’s fair to say that this series of articles about the proposed new Reserves League has definitely got people talking, mostly positively about the imminent return of a Reserve Grade competition, however I am also very aware of some dissenting voices, accusing me of having an anti-Leeds and an anti-Gary Hetherington agenda, so I decided to do some more research and put those accusations away.

On one thread about the last article, in which I quoted Gary Hetherington word-for-word from an interview he gave to League Express, one quote was about me being a Hull FC supporter and, apparently that says it all.

Yes I am a Hull FC season pass member I’ve made no secret of that, however as a qualified journalist I do believe I am very fair and honest, in said article I pointed out that some of Hetherington’s argument was legitimate, but I also pointed out that he turned on RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer for his statement about a Reserves League, I do believe even the most ardent of Hetherington supporters cannot deny that he did.

As I said in the article, which seems to have been forgotten in certain quarters, with 11 Super League clubs, as well as some lower league clubs, all saying they want to see a return of a Reserves League, I believe Rimmer had no choice but to show support for that, the attack by Gary Hetherington was completely unwarranted, yes he has his opinion, which he is absolutely entitled to, but so does everybody else and the majority want a Reserves League.

As part of my research I spoke to Australian NRL journalist Geoffrey Allan-Mate and asked him about player development down under, he replied: “A rookie at 24 is an old rookie if that makes sense?

So how many teenagers make their debut in NRL? “I don’t have stats, but pretty common.

“We do not have Reserve Grade as such, ISP is the equivalent, two comps, New South Wales and Queensland.”

So how much does he think the European sides would benefit from a Reserve League? His answer tells its own story: “Most down here want a return of Reserve Grade.

“There is no ‘feel’ to ISP for example, Melbourne’s teams play in Queensland, so no culture if that makes sense!”

For my own opinion, which you may or may not agree with, it seems to me that plenty of younger Australian players seem to come and develop in Super League, some stay long term, others maybe return to NRL sooner rather than later.

As a Hull FC supporter, and I expect supporters of other sides will also have names to throw into the mix, I’ve seen players such as Sam Moa, Jacob Miller, Jordan Rankin, Carlos Tuimavave and Mahe Fonua arrive as young players, Moa, Rankin and Fonua all returned to the NRL as better players than when they arrived.

Other overseas players who arrived in Super League as young players include Michael Dobson, Blake Green, Pat Richards, there is a long list of overseas players that have come here and secured moves back to the NRL after having their development here!

With a Reserves League one of the main benefits would be that it would give us chance to develop young British talent, playing them against other Super League players, over the last decade we have proved we can develop young talent, but in too many cases it has been a means to an end for Australian players!

Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity legend Kevin Harkin also agreed with everything in my last article, he said: “I believe every club needs a second team.

“It gave the likes of myself a chance to learn against seasoned pro’s back in my teenage years!

“What happens to these kids now who are not quite ready for first team rugby, do most of them go on the scrap heap?”

He continues: “I just cannot understand Gary why he’s so against second teams, I thought he was all for the good of the game.

“I see this as depriving some young lads the chance of pro rugby. he isn’t a bad bloke normally, I just don’t understand where he is coming from.”

He also explained that he was the youngest ever debutant at scrum-half at Wakefield at 17 years old, but is sure he would never have got that chance without the second team there.

He pointed out that Ken Traill was in his last year of coaching when he made his debut and said: “We also had a young stand-off called David Topliss.”

It should also be pointed out that yes, Kevin could have graduated from Academy to first team at 17 years old, however it is also worth pointing out that at Academy age, he would not have played against seasoned professionals before making his debut, he got that experience in the Reserve Grade.

At this point I also feel I should point out the potential benefits of a Reserves League to supporters, with the inevitable knock-on advantage for the clubs. Having reported on many Reserves games it is massively obvious that supporters get more interaction with star players and coaches.

Season Pass members, certainly at Hull FC, get in to Reserve team games for free and are regularly sat or stood next to first team players and coaches while watching Reserve Grade players vying for a shirt, alongside established first team players returning from injuries, they also have part time players who work at the day job, then train two or three evenings a week, before playing at the weekend, some of which end up achieving the dream of a full time contract.

With a Reserve team, you are trading in young players dreams, plus connecting more with your support base and, more than likely, selling more season pass memberships because of the added benefit of going to see games for free, or having a curtain raiser before a Super League or Challenge Cup match.

Whichever way you look at it, the Reserve Grade competition is a win/win benefit for both supporters and clubs and that’s before you even consider some of the player development benefits!

On more than one occasion, including Mr Hetherington, there have been people pointing out that there is a chronic shortage of young people playing the game, however I believe, because I’ve seen it happen, more teenagers will get more chances with a Reserve Grade in place, it gives them a realistic aim, a teenager who works all day, then trains in an evening, is never going to get sent out to another club, he has a club investing in him, who want some return on that investment, with a Reserve Grade team, he has a realistic chance of playing to a very good standard, against professional players, if he’s good enough, that is where he will earn a contract and a chance of playing to the highest standard.

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