Brian Carney criticises rugby league development system and urges clubs to look at union talent

Ben Olawumi
Brian Carney

Brian Carney - Alamy

Sky Sports host Brian Carney, who played both rugby league and union over the course of his own career, has urged Super League clubs to widen their nets when it comes to recruitment for the good of the competition.

Now 47, the former winger’s first taste of the sport came in union, which he played in college back in Ireland. After a stint with amateur league club ‘Dublin Blues’, his professional career began in Super League with Gateshead Thunder in 1999.

The Cork-born ace retired a decade later to bring an end to a career which saw him represent Great Britain and Ireland in league, as well as the latter in union, playing for Munster at club level between 2007 and 2009. In league, Carney’s clubs included Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and NRL outfit Newcastle Knights.

And as someone well-versed in both codes, the broadcaster has stressed the importance of clubs in this country broadening their horizons when it comes to their search for new talent.

Brian Carney: Plenty of amateur union players could make step up to play in Super League

As a special guest alongside former commentator Eddie Hemmings, Carney spoke out about the issues surrounding the scouting process at clubs on this week’s edition of ‘Eddie and Stevo – The Podcast’.

He said: “If you were to get all of the Super League scouts out or the people responsible for the recruitment, and ask them to name 10 rugby union clubs outside the top two divisions, I think they’d come unstuck.

“Are you telling me in this island with the population that they have here, and you can take Ireland in it as well, that there aren’t amateur rugby union players capable of playing rugby league at Super League level? Of course there are.

“I would say if you’re going to just go with all the players currently playing rugby league across universities and in the community game, you may be looking at hundreds that could take the step up.

“There are far better players than me that will now be playing amateur rugby union in Ireland, and amateur rugby union in Scotland, Wales and England [who could make the step].

“There’s not even a doubt in my mind, of course they could. I think the ship might have sailed for them (in relation to reaching the top of the game in union), not all of those can get to that.

“They’ve just got a wider base at the bottom of the pyramid, and they’ve got a pyramid top that they can’t all fit into Steve Borthwick’s [England] side, they’ll know that, that’s why they’re playing amateur rugby union.”

Carney wants clubs to open up their minds and eyes to potential talents outside the normal avenues

There’s no secret in the process of Super League clubs attempting to attract and keep a hold of the best young talents around in the code.

As discussed by the Sky Sports commentary team during a game earlier this season, now-Championship outfit Widnes Vikings are an example of a club that have lost numerous academy talents to Super League set-ups. Matt Whitley, Sam Walters, Jarrod O’Connor and Danny Walker are just a handful of names on that list to have departed the Vikings for top-flight systems.

More recently, St Helens prospect Wesley Bruines has been snapped up by Warrington for 2024, with the chance to work alongside incoming Wire boss Sam Burgess a big factor in the move for the 20-year-old.

But Carney doesn’t believe success stories have to come directly from the rugby league world, adding: “We spend an awful lot of time and money developing rugby league players.

“You keep hearing about the systems – ‘you’ve got to bring them through the system’ and ‘they’ve got to know our system’.

“I just think we miss an awful lot of people that you don’t have to have in your system. They don’t need to be scouted at seven years of age.

“If you had an open mind, I think you’d probably find as much talent out there doing other things than being in a rugby league system since they were seven years of age.

“If we opened our eyes and scouted around, not just rugby union but all the different sports, I think we’d find a lot of athletes capable of playing rugby league, I truly believe that.”

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