'It was ridiculous to scrap the reserves in the first place... this is a victory for common sense' - comment

In praising today's rugby league chiefs for bringing back the reserves, let's not forget this mess was self-inflicted in the first place.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 12:16 pm
Jake Shorrocks has been in and out of the first-team, but a reserve side would give him somewhere to play

In praising today's rugby league chiefs for bringing back the reserves, let's not forget this mess was self-inflicted in the first place.

At a time when the talent pool is shrinking - as NRL players become less and less accessible - the clubs here responded by making its production system worse.

To recap, the second-tier ran for several years and under different banners - A team, Alliance, Under-21s - with an Under-18s academy below it.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There were some mismatches and blow-outs, but it was a real league.

And the fact each club was allowed three or four open age players, it allowed those on the fringes - or dropped - or returning from injury, somewhere to play, within their own club system.

But the U21s was ditched in favour of the - cheaper - one academy side, the U19s. Anyone older would have to play on dual-registration (like a ‘week to week’ loan agreement) for lower league clubs.

It was fraught with problems from the start.

At first, overseas players couldn’t go on dual-reg owing to visa rules. For them, it was Super League or nothing.

And so we had the farcical situation of Bradford’s Adrian Purtell having to make his comeback from a heart attack at Super League level.

Read that again; a player had a heart attack, but was prevented from playing a lower-standard game.

No sooner had they sorted that visa issue, along came another problem - the promotion and relegation element of the Super-8s left dual-reg open to abuse of clubs bringing in ‘ringers’ from their full-time partner clubs.

To combat this, for many, dual-reg halted at the end of July.

Which meant many players on the fringes were effectively frozen out, and prevented from playing for the last 10 weeks of the season.

Imagine, for a minute, what a player would have to do on the pitch to be banned for 10 weeks. Yet for many, they were handed that punishment, and their only crime was being 20 or 21 years old.

That again was changed, but even when dual-reg worked at its best, players are still being shipped out to clubs in the Championship, sometimes playing alongside players whose names they don't know - let alone to an alien game-plan - and being asked to impress their parent club.

It was a shambles. Many senior players said as much. Sam Tomkins called it "madness". Every head coach I spoke to said a reserves was needed.

Some clubs tried to organise their own reserves, on a friendly basis, and Shaun Wane admitted Dom Manfredi would never have got back into the Wigan side last year had he not played a second-string match first.

But it needed a real, competitive league, a stepping stone between academy and first-team - while preserving the option of sending some on loan, if that's the right thing for their development.

So I welcome today's announcement. At a time when the RFL commendably organises a women's league and matches for those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties, it seemed ludicrous that it has taken so long to restore the development pathway in the professional game.

Common sense has prevailed, at last.