A very civil Partnership…?

From 2013, SuperLeague clubs will streamline the under-15’s and under-16’s into one team, the under-18’s will become the under-19’s and they will no longer run an under-23’s team. These changes are set to save each club around £100,000 per season.

While I do not doubt for one second that this is mainly a cost-cutting exercise, many critics of these changes are bemoaning the fact that so many academy prospects will be lost to the game, but I do not believe that this will be the case.

Under the new set-up, SuperLeague clubs will oversee a potential players development from the ages of 15 to 19. By the time they reach this age that club will already know whether that player has what it takes to become a SuperLeague player or not. To back up this viewpoint I refer you to the following list:

Leeds Rhinos Academy prospects, and their age at SL Debut: (listed in player age order on debut within bands)

16 – Chev Walker, Kevin Sinfield.

17 – Kallum Watkins, Garreth Carvell, Terry Newton, Nick Scruton, Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

18 – Stevie Ward, Brad Singleton, Rob Burrow, Jon Liddell, Carl Ablett, Danny McGuire, Danny Allen, Ryan Bailey, Lee Smith, Andy Kirk, Gavin Brown, Jason Netherton, Adam Hughes, Danny Ward, Richard Mathers, Ashley Gibson, Gareth Morton.

19 – Matt Diskin, Paul McShane, Ben Kaye, Mark Calderwood, Danny Williams, Chris Chapman, Ryan Hall, Andy Speak, Jordan Tansey, Leroy Rivett, George Elliott, Ben Jones-Bishop, Joe Chandler, Scott Murrell, Chris Clarkson.

20 – Tom Bush, Liam Hood, Paul Gleadhill, Dane Manning, Dave Wrench, Jonny Hepworth, Michael Haley.

21 – Luke Burgess.

For the removal of any doubt any players that made their Leeds’ debut before the SL Era have not been included. (Big thanks to my good friend Tvoc at rlfans.com for the stats!)

Now this would seem to me that Leeds know exactly what it takes to make it in their team by the time they are 19, as to date Luke Burgess is the only player to become a regular first teamer beyond that age. So for purely player development reasons, it does seem pretty pointless to run academy teams beyond the age of 19 at great expense.

The only difference now is that these players not ready for SuperLeague will look for other clubs at the age of 20 rather than 23. And this is where the Championship clubs cash in…

This off-season is only a month old, yet already Championship clubs are announcing new signings of now overage SuperLeague academy players almost on a daily basis. There is absolutely no doubt that these lads are talented, and after coming through a SuperLeague environment they should be in great shape and model professionals too. Hopefully under this system we will unearth more Peter Fox’s and Danny Brough’s, who have since gone on to play for England after initially being rejected from their SuperLeague academy beginnings.

With these players complementing established Championship stars we should actually expect to see a rise in playing standards next year, despite there being four new teams added to the division. There will be a knock on effect in Championship 1 too as players trickle down the system. Don’t forget there are three new teams to fill at that level too!

Under the changes, Super League and Championship clubs will also be able to enter into Partnership Agreements: the 13 UK-based Super League clubs have the option to partner with at least one Championships club, and any second partnership must be with a Championship club from Cumbria, the North East, the Midlands, the South West, South Yorkshire, London, Wales or France.

Several clubs have already linked up even before the official go-ahead by the RFL: Leeds & Hunslet, Bradford & Dewsbury, Warrington & Swinton, and St Helens have linked Whitehaven and Rochdale.

News of these partnerships has been met with an understandable degree of apprehension from the ranks of Championship fans, but I have to stress to them that in no way do I think that their precious clubs will not become mere ‘feeder’ clubs.

My club York City Knights are partnering with Hull FC next year. That means we can use up to 5 out of 8 or 9 lads from their first team who aren’t playing SuperLeague in any particular week. York have insisted there will be no coaching directive from Hull as part of their agreement, or that Hull can stipulate which of their players get a run-out with the Knights. Hull boss Peter Gentle will decide who is available, but Thornton will have the final say on who plays. York’s aim next year is the play-offs, and if we get any lads in from Hull (like Danny Nicklas who will be on a season-long loan while training full-time at his parent club) who will strengthen our team then great, but they will have to fight for their place just like the 25 lads that are already signed on will, and I trust Gary Thornton’s judgement.

What excites me most about the link up is that Hull will share with York best practice on a wide range of other strategies such as media and marketing, strength and conditioning and coaching development. This means that this three year partnership is going to allow the Knights to gain valuable experience in how to run a Grade A standard SuperLeague club, so by the time we move into our brand new 8-10 thousand SuperLeague capacity stadium in 2015 we should be in a great position to potentially move up to that level.

The fact that Hull FC’s fringe first teamers will compliment one of the strongest York City Knights squads ever assembled (in my humble opinion) is a very nice bonus!

St Helens are going one step further with Rochdale, having also offered them use of their facilities and expertise, they have also recommended the Hornets a highly rated young English coach in their former under-20’s coach Ian Talbot, who Rochdale duly appointed. A lot of Rochdale fans seem rather disgruntled at the move, but is it such a bad thing for them? 

Ian Talbot’s job now is to build a strong squad for Rochdale and Rochdale only, while having access to world-class facilities and systems that he will be very familiar with. And if that includes up to 5 prospects from St Helens each week, what’s the problem? Crucially they will still need a squad of at least 20 more players to compete in Championship 1, and when they pull on a shirt and step over that whitewash they will be Rochdale players, and the club will undoubtedly become stronger off the field too.

I know these changes will be met with the usual outcries, but I genuinely believe that if all clubs work properly together, we could start to see improvements right across the British game… Whisper it quietly!

Tweet me what you think… @GavWilson

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