Last weekend saw the return of academy rugby after over a year out. Of course, a year of no rugby hasn’t been ideal for the game’s future stars. They are now behind in their development which creates all the more need for a reserve league.
In recent years, the concept of reserves was set to be revived but the pandemic put a sudden stop to that. There’ll be no reserve league in 2021 and there are significant doubts over its future beyond next year.
However, it simply cannot be allowed to die off as it did before especially in a post-dual-registration climate. The years between 19 and 21 are vital to a player’s growth. Not everyone can be like Kevin Sinfield and debut at 16. After all some of Super League’s finest players have developed late. But in today’s climate their careers would’ve stalled at the first hurdle.
At this moment in time there’s nothing for players above the age of 19 to fall back on if they aren’t like the few who burst onto the scene at such a young age. This means that all too often their careers reach a sudden halt because they’re either not being given enough game time or they’re simply let go because there’s no place for them within the club.
Take Leeds Rhinos for example. The Rhinos have faced huge injury problems this season forcing them to rely on the likes of Sam Walters, Jack Broadbent and Jarrod O’Connor. All have done a magnificent job and could be stars in the making. But when all their players are fit, these three may lose out on their regular game time and by the end of this season they’ll be too old to play for the Under-19s. Then what? Should Leeds ditch their first teamers to develop their youngsters, or should their young stars be left to stagnate? Yes, they could be sent out on loan but that doesn’t always develop a player the way you’d like nor can a loan move be guaranteed for a youngster as Championship clubs look to develop their own youngsters.
They need somewhere to play rugby, develop and improve. They need a safety net to keep their careers alive and give them the time and space to become the player they can be. That’s why we need a reserve league. It is an absolute must if we are to give English talents the best opportunity to succeed in rugby league. Maybe then we’d be able to compete with Australia on the international stage.
After yesterday’s news this is all the more important. Many believe the move made by the RFL will diminish the talent pool. Thus, it is vitally important that those remaining are given the time to develop into star players. There may be less academies but the creation of a reserve league would allow youngsters the best chance of becoming the stars we need them to be to keep the quality of the competition high and enable us to challenge the Aussies in the future.