Anger as three clubs lose elite academy status

James Gordon

Rowan Milnes (25) of Hull KR during the game

Bradford, Castleford and Hull KR have been omitted from the RFL’s list of Elite Academy licenses for the period 2022-2027.

The governing body announced the 10 successful clubs from 15 applications, with Leigh and Salford thought to be the other applicants to be rejected.

Up until six months ago, there were 14 elite academies, before Widnes decided to close theirs citing funding challenges following their relegation to the Championship and change to part-time status.

CONTEXT: Funding, reserves & reviews: How the academy system moves forward post-COVID

The licensing process had been delayed from the end of 2019 due to COVID, and had previously agreed that a maximum of 12 licences should be awarded – up to nine in ‘core affinity areas’, up to two in ‘emerging affinity areas’ and up to one in France.

That resulted in seven English Super League teams – Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, St Helens, Wakefield, Warrington and Wigan, – one French Super League team – Catalans Dragons and two Championship sides – London and Newcastle – being successful.

Consideration was given to the impact on the community game, the opportunity for progression and the expansion of the talent pool beyond the sport’s traditional heartland.

Unsuccessful clubs may reapply in 2024, and are able to operate so-called ‘Development Academies’, run in conjunction with colleges.

Club reaction

Bradford, who have produced the likes of Sam Burgess, John Bateman and Jamie Peacock, were far from happy with the announcement, and issued a strongly worded statement.

It read: “Bradford Bulls are incredibly shocked, disappointed and perplexed by this morning’s decision not to grant the club an Elite Academy Licence.

“We are struggling to understand any RFL strategy that apparently prevents young Bradford players playing for Bradford.

“The decision, if left to stand, is immensely damaging to the sport, the city and the welfare of 90 plus young players and staff.

“The club has not received any detailed feedback at this stage, so will be reserving our position until that is received, and we have a better understanding as to why the RFL believe an extremely productive line of young talent can be laid to waste.”

Castleford said they were “devastated” at the news, and they had been informed they were rejected due to other clubs being situated nearby.

Their statement said: “The early feedback given as to the reasons that Castleford Tigers has not been awarded an Elite Academy Licence is due to a large number of clubs in a small geographical location, and that since 2014 the Club has been bottom of the league for producing first team players.

“However, the process has not taken into account the appearances of our long-standing home-grown Academy talent such as Michael Shenton, Adam Milner, Nathan Massey, Oliver Holmes, James Clare, Greg Eden and Liam Watts, just to name some of the players currently within the Castleford first team setup.

“Throughout the last Academy process, the Club has invested millions of pounds into the Club’s youth systems and structures.

“As a result of this, we are determined to develop a hybrid system alongside our current College of Rugby League and Elite Player Pathways.”

Hull KR, who had previously teamed up with Hull FC to form the City of Hull Academy before that was disbanded and the club’s reverted to their individual set ups in 2019, said they would take time to reflect on the matter and make no comment at this time.

What the RFL and licensing panel said

The panel was chaired by Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE. The RFL representation was led by Dave Rotheram (Chief On-Field Officer), also including Marc Lovering (Director of Participation and Development), Samantha Allen (Head of Professional Game Delivery) and Paul Medley (National Player Progression Manager).

The panel also included Duncan Truswell, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Performance and Talent who shared a wealth of expertise from other sports.

Dean Andrew OBE, said: “We thank all clubs for their applications, and the work that went into them. This has been a robust and rigorous process, with an emphasis on quality and realism.

“We did not work to award a set number of licences, but to ensure those licences awarded were to truly Elite Academies, and to bear in mind the importance of protecting the Community Game.”

Duncan Trusell said: “It was a real privilege to get a more intimate understanding of the elite player development programmes being delivered within the applicant clubs.

“Many of the clubs have a great track record of consistently developing senior elite players for England and yet their commitment to iterate and develop their programmes in order to continue to optimally attract, retain and progress players really shone through.

“It was a competitive process and there were inevitably some difficult choices to be made, however, as one of the two independent panel members reviewing the submissions and overseeing the process, I was impressed by its robustness and rigour. All of the applicants should be commended for the effort that they put into the process and their commitment to the development of players and the game.”

How social media reacted

Fans and players of those clubs that have lost their elite academy status expressed their disappointment with the news.

Academy and Reserves competitions

It has already been announced that there will be no formal Academy competition in 2021, with instead as many games as possible being played to aid development.

A full season is expected to resume next year, while all 11 English Super League clubs will be required to run Reserve sides in 2022, with non-Super League clubs given the option to apply to do so.