St Helens have stepped into the debate about the reserves by saying a competitive second-string is “vital” to producing the next generation of stars - and explained why they won’t be taking part next year.
Earlier this week, Wigantoday reported the Warriors were one of only three Super League clubs - with Wakefield and Hull - who will be taking part in a seven-team reserves on a friendly basis in 2019.
It sparked an intense debate on social media and some questioned why clubs such as Warrington, Leeds and Saints were not participating.
St Helens today explained the reason they did not commit to a reserves for next season was because of the uncertainty over fixtures.
But chief executive Mike Rush stressed they were “big believers” in the concept and want the second-tier to be made compulsory for Super League clubs.
He said: “The club are 100 percent committed to running a reserve team and did so for two seasons with only Warrington and Wigan also showing their commitment.
“Following this experience and lack of game time for the players, the club is awaiting the governing body to make the competition mandatory for all Super League clubs.
“We strongly believe that a three tier system, with under-18s and reserves, is vital to the production of the game’s next generation of elite players for our club and international competitions.
“In 2017, the club played 14 games at this level while the next nearest club played seven and as a result we stated that a greater commitment from the centre was needed to make this a genuine competition.
“With regards to 2019, once again the competition is based on friendly matches with no formal competition and we was felt that the lack of certainty around such fixtures made it impossible to commit to.
“The club will explore the opportunity to play some games against other clubs at this level during the season using our top age academy under 19s and our first team squad members.”
Until a few years ago, clubs operated a three-tier system with an Under-21s (or reserves) and a U18s.
This was scrapped in favour of a single academy team, U19s - with no provision for older players - in a move many regarded to be a cost-cutting exercise.
It is not compulsory for clubs to participate - Salford, for example, don’t have an academy side. Players too old for the U19s gain experience by playing on loan or dual-registration elsewhere.