Wigan Warriors welcome return of reserves

Wigan's head of youth Darrell Goulding has welcomed the return of a reserves competition next year.
Umyla Hanley has been able to play for the academy this seasonUmyla Hanley has been able to play for the academy this season
Umyla Hanley has been able to play for the academy this season

The second-tier will run alongside an Under-18s academy, with the plan for the two competitions to be played on alternate weeks throughout the season.

They will each play up to 16 rounds, helping manage the demands on players and clubs, with a play-off series at the end to determine the champions.

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The reserves was called off when the Covid pandemic struck last year and shelved this season as a cost-cutting measure.

Goulding, a former Wigan centre, said: "THis is something we're really happy about as a club.

"We believe it's the approach that the game should go down. We probably expected a bit of resistance if I'm honest, on the back of Covid's impact, but every club seems to be on board and realises that this needs to happen.

"The last few months have been really difficult for players in that age group, it's a crucial part of their development and because of circumstances out of their control they've hardly been able to play.

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"This is a sensible first step back towards the pathway which should be in place, it's a real competition and with the reserves being every other week, it won't have the impact on the community game."

The entry criteria for reserves remains the same as it did when the competition was reintroduced for the start of the 2020 season before being curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic - it is mandatory for all licensed academies and Super League clubs, maintaining continuity within the performance pathway, meaning that it will involve Bradford Bulls, London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder as well as the Super League clubs.

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Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s chief on-field officer, said: “We believe this is a positive and important decision which has been made following extensive consultation with the Betfred Super League and Championship clubs.

“There had been a very positive response to the planned return of reserves, and the resulting switch of the academy to an Under-18s competition, for the 2020 season before Covid forced the cancellation of all grades of rugby league below the Betfred Super League.

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“It has remained impractical to reintroduce Reserves in 2021 given the ongoing complications arising from Covid, which has been a source of frustration to the RFL and most importantly the players who have been deprived of playing and development opportunities.

“That is why we were so keen to confirm the return of reserves in 2022, and we congratulate the clubs for their willingness and enthusiasm to make this possible despite the considerable financial and logistical challenges.

“We have worked with the clubs to devise a structure which manages those challenges, for example by ensuring the reserves and Under-18 academy competitions will be run on alternate weeks, so that clubs only field one team beneath first grade on a weekly basis. This will also provide the appropriate level of challenge for our talented young players and playing opportunities for senior squad members.

“We believe the addition of Play-Offs will create an opportunity for the players to be tested in ‘knockout’ football and create wider interest.”