Davies: Super League needs a real reserve system

Tom DaviesTom Davies
Tom Davies
Tom Davies has welcomed plans to overhaul the Super League reserve system '“ describing the sport's current set-up as 'ridiculous'.

New Super League chief executive Robert Elstone has threatened clubs they may be kicked out of the competition if they do not show a commitment to youth development.

As it stands, only Wigan and Wakefield run reserve sides but suffer from the lack of competition.

Salford don’t even have an Under-19s academy side.

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Many at Wigan have been critical of the situation and Davies said: “To be honest, I think the sport is run so badly in terms of bringing through youth products.”

Currently, clubs are left to choose how or if they develop players – something Elstone says needs to change.

“If Super League clubs are not pulling their weight in terms of youth development then I’m not sure they deserve to be at the table,” he told the Whippers and Flat Caps podcast.

“I think one of the conditions of membership of Super League needs to be a substantial investment in youth development – a commitment to bringing through the next generation of players.”

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Given the pressure on players to make the cut before they are too old for the Under-19s, Davies has no doubts many quality players are lost to the game.

“If you’re not ready for Super League at 19, many players get released,” he said.

“But how many are ready for Super League at 19? It’s a special market.

“If you’re not released (at 19), you’re going on loan to a club where you don’t know the players, the coaches. It’s ridiculous.

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“You need a good reserve system. I’d say a good 60 per cent of the talent is missed.”

As an academy product who has nailed down a regular spot at Wigan, it would be easy for Davies to be perceived as a poster-boy for the youth system of this country.

But, as a self-tagged late developer, he was nearly lost to league because of the limited chances provided to him.

“I remember being 16, 17, playing for my college team, desperate to get onto Leigh Centurions’ reserve team and they didn’t have a second look at me,” he said.

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“You may get someone who is 17, 18 and he’s a world-beater. But you look at me, at 17, I never made any of the rep teams.”

He went on to play at Fylde rugby union and only came to Wigan’s attention when he agreed to play a game for Wigan St Pat’s Under-18s when they were short of players for a match.

Warriors’ head of youth Matty Peet was at the game.

“It’s crazy really when you think of it,” he said. “Matty could have been there and I’d had a bad game, or I may have had a good game and he’d been held up and missed it.

“A lot of it is down to luck, injuries, which scout watches you.

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“That’s why I think, if you had a proper reserve system in place, players could be watched consistently.”

Wigan are big advocates of a competitive reserve league, but clearly they need enough of the other clubs to also be on board to provide meaningful competition.

Until fairly recently, Super League clubs had a reserves-type side – under different guises, including an Under-21s which allowed a few open-age players to figure – backed up by an Under-18s below it.

But that system was ditched in favour of a U19s, with no provision for older players.

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An attempt to revive the reserves was met by a lack of support. Hull FC, Warrington and St Helens were also supporters but gave up because last year’s voluntarily league was a shambles.

That means anybody too old to play for U19s, and not in the first-team, has to gain experience playing on dual-registration or loan for lower-league clubs.

Davies says trying to make your mark in strange surroundings, with strangers as team-mates, is an arduous task.

“I went to Swinton for five weeks, and I enjoyed it, it was a good set-up,” said Davies.

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“But it’s hard to play that well, in that league, in a team you may train with once a week. Even if they run the same play, the halfback may run the line differently, so the timing is different to what you’re used to.

“And you’re trying to put in that good a performance that you’re asking your head coach of your Super League club to pick you – it’s unrealistic.

“You could put someone like Sam (Tomkins) in Swinton’s team and for the first couple of weeks, he’s got to get used to them, they’ve got to get used to him.”