The reserve system has been a farce for a number of years, but it is becoming laughable now.
The Rugby Football League are yet to make the reserves league compulsory, meaning several Super League clubs are getting away with not bothering to field second-string sides next year.
How can a professional and full-time sports club not have a reserve side? The cost of running one can’t be an excuse. Halifax run their side for less than £30,000 and most of that money is provided by the hard work of fans, fundraising activities and sponsors.
A reserves league should be compulsory for all Super League clubs and whoever wants to have a reserve team outside of the top-flight should be also be in the competition.
At the time of writing, Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity will be the only Super League clubs to have reserve teams next season. It’s a disgrace.
Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and St Helens all want to run reserve teams but because there isn’t that same ambition and drive from all of the other clubs – they will seek loan options instead.
Halifax and Bradford Bulls are set to run ‘A’ teams next year and that’s fantastic, while it looks like Keighley Cougars will drop their reserve side, seeing as there are major doubts over the club’s future.
I did a column in July last year with the headline ‘reserves in Super League is a must’ and nothing has changed since.
Young players are being neglected by the sport and it’s sad to see. How can you determine whether someone is Super League standard or not before they turn 20? It’s not right, but rugby league continues to do it anyway.
Look at the NRL and its structure. They have a proper reserve league that is highly competitive and one that the fans love because they get to see future stars as well as some first-team members who haven’t made the cut that week or are coming back from injury. Even the big games in the reserves gain good crowds over in Australia.
If you look at the bigger picture, England are being hindered on the international stage as well because there aren’t as many world class players coming through as what there could be – either because they are being released at 19 or playing six games a year for the reserves.
Players who are released when they get too old for the Academy at 19 are falling out of love with the sport and it’s also not fair on the late developers, who might only blossom at 23 or 24.
No wonder that participation levels are going down in the sport because we don’t even have a sensible pathway in place at the top level.
A reserves league is definitely a must for Super League, and teams outside should be allowed to join. Let’s give the rising stars a platform to showcase their talent.