Doing it for the kids

Following their fourth round win over Leeds, it would take a brave man to bet against St Helens appearing in the Challenge Cup final for the fourth successive year.

New coach Mick Potter has history in the competition too; having led Catalans to the final in 2007, the first time a French side has reached Wembley.

But would a fourth successive Challenge Cup triumph for Saints be harmful to the game?

There were ructions in the early 1990s owing to the success of Wigan, who beat all before them to win eight Challenge Cups in a row. Saints have won 7 of the 13 Challenge Cup finals since then, and were losing finalists in 2002, so are by far the most dominant force in the modern era.

But their success has been built around home grown players, players which St Helens have brought through themselves; the likes of Paul Wellens, Keiron Cunningham and more recently James Roby and James Graham. It appears they already have another good few on the production line too, with Gary Wheeler and Tom Armstrong two more names that have impressed this season, following Kyle Eastmond’s introduction to Super League last season.

Leeds have won the last two Super League Grand Finals and they too are a champion of youth development. In a game earlier this season, they fielded a starting 13 that included just one player (Scott Donald) that hadn’t come through their ranks. The emergence of players such as Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow in to world class stars have been a key catalyst in Leeds’ success. And they too are continuing their production line, with players such as Kallum Watkins, Lee Smith and Luke Burgess making the step up to the first team in recent years.

Who now is going to take the step up to break the big two’s stranglehold on the game? Wigan have produced a number of good youngsters over the years who are now doing the business for other teams. Stephen Wild at Huddersfield is a good example. Wigan have had quite a production line of players over the years that they have let go, for whatever reason, and they have then plugged the gaps in their team with expensive imports. It’s this kind of policy which is coming back to haunt them now, as they watch in envy the Leeds and Saints youngsters take Super League by storm.

Gradually, youngsters are coming to the fore in Super League. Richie Myler at Salford, who came through the Widnes academy, is set to be a leading player for years to come, while Hull are another club who have invested in youth and are prepared to give it a chance.

So the message is for clubs craving success, don’t look for the quick fix. Develop your own talent, supplement it with proven professionals and maybe, just maybe, Saints and Leeds can be beaten.

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