The debate about the reserves took a fresh twist today when Wigan Warriors admitted they are considering withdrawing a second-string side.
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 reserves on a friendly basis in 2019.
But with the other teams from Championship or League One clubs, Wigan are reviewing whether to press ahead with a reserves in 2019 or not.
Executive director Kris Radlinski believes it is “crazy” that reserves is not mandatory.
But with so many other top-flight clubs unwilling to participate, he is concerned players would not get the standard of competition they need as it stands.
And he said: “If I’m honest we will probably review our situation over the coming days off the back of it.
“It is 100 per cent the right pathway, but the competition is not what we wanted and not what we bought into.
“What we want is a competition which provides players with the next step down from Super League.
“Playing a Championship club’s reserve team, with all due respect, is not the next step down. So we have to look at it.
“When we saw the teams involved it was disappointing for us, having said we were fully committed to it.”
He hopes a competitive reserve league - with St Helens and Warrington, two clubs who have previously backed the system - could be in place for 2020, but admits it has yet to be discussed at Super League board level.
“I think if we do end up pulling out it may send a real message,” said Radlinski. “In next 12 months hopefully become mandatory but we don’t know at this stage.”
Players too old for the U19s will be left to gain experience by playing on loan or dual-registration elsewhere.
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. Some clubs later set-up reserve teams and played each other on a friendly basis.
“If you ask every single head of youth they’d say 100 per cent it’s the right pathway,” added Radlinski. “It costs up to 45 or 50 grand, there’s more workload on staff, and all of that is considered - but from a player pathway point of view it’s crazy it’s not mandatory.”
Radlinski’s admission came hours after St Helens clarified their stance, saying they firmly believe in the concept but could not commit to it in its current state.
Chief executive Mike Rush wants 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.”