THIS has been the ‘legacy summer’ for sport – lots of talk of building for the future on the success of the Olympics. We’ll see.
Just as school playing fields are still being sold off, the elite of rugby league seems determined to pawn the game’s future.
A crucial stage in the development of young players is to disappear with Super League clubs axing their under-20s squads next season. There will also be only two scholarship levels at under-16s and under-19s.
There’s a lot of talk by the people who run the game about ‘development pathways’ – this latest madness looks like they are determined to lock the gates on young players. It’s a classic case of mindless, short-term cost cutting.
The game at every level needs to develop young players not create more gaps to be filled by Southern Hemisphere imports.
To compensate for their short-term thinking and with stupefying arrogance the game’s elite clubs want to dump the development of the twentysomethings on clubs in semi-professional leagues.
It’s being proposed that the controversial dual-registration system is expanded and that Championship clubs forge closer links with Super League clubs. That’s like being offered a ride on the tiger – watch out where you end up.
For the last couple of years Championship clubs have been able to play four Super League players on dual reg loans. It’s pretty one-sided with the parent club deciding when the player is available and able to recall them at any time.
Sheffield Eagles got their fingers burned using the system last season with loan players in and out of the team at the whim of Huddersfield Giants before disappearing altogether mid-season. After that a more settled Eagles battled their way to their first Championship Grand final.
Next season it’s suggested Championship clubs will be able to have 10 dual-reg players and play eight at any one time. Are supporters going to be happy watching the Super League ‘reserve’ competition?
It’s going to be initially attractive in some boardrooms to link up with a Super League club. This is a takeover by the back door with the Championship in danger of becoming little more than a feeder league for the elite clubs.
It’s a clever way to kick into touch any reform of the failed Super League licensing system or a return to automatic promotion.
Sheffield Eagles’ Mark Aston and Featherstone’s Daryl Powell have spoken out about the proposed changes. Both coach clubs that put a priority on youth development.
The autumn will see the launch of the Junior Eagles, a train-on squad for 13 to 14-year-olds to prepare youngsters for a possible place on the club’s scholarship scheme.
Aston and Powell were canny operators as players for the Eagles and they’ve built their clubs into two of the strongest outside the Super League. Sadly both expect their protests to be ignored.