Wigan Warriors WILL have competitive reserve team in 2020 - confirmed

Dom Manfredi played a reserves game before making his comeback from a two-year injury lay-off. Picture: SWPix
Dom Manfredi played a reserves game before making his comeback from a two-year injury lay-off. Picture: SWPix

A competitive reserve league will return for 2020, it has been confirmed.

The Rugby Football League and Super League Europe have announced the 11 English Betfred Super League clubs, and clubs with Category 1 funded academies outside Super League (Widnes Vikings and Bradford Bulls), to have a mandatory reserve team.

The Under-19s will also switch to an Under-18s competition. The dual registration and loan systems will remain unaffected.

Comment: A victory for common sense

The reserves was ditched a few years ago when the academy was cut from two teams into a U19s - a measure seen by many as a cost-cutting exercise.

Players who were too old to qualify had to gain experience playing on loan or dual-registration for lower-league clubs, if they weren't in the first-team.

Wigan and a handful of others continued to arrange matches on a 'friendly' basis, and though it was insufficient, it paved the way for Dom Manfredi's return to first-team action ahead of last year's Grand Final.

Coach Shaun Wane admitted at the time he would never have thrown the winger into a Super League match - after two years on the sidelines - if he hadn't played a reserves match first.

Warriors executive director Kris Radlinski welcomed today's confirmation.

"We have been extremely vocal in our support for a Reserve Grade as we believe that to create a pathway to maximise the potential of the players we are producing at academy level is vital for the lifeblood of our game," he said.

"In our opinion, we have always argued that the jump from Under 19s to Super League is enormous for a young player, only a select few can make it, but that’s not to say the one’s who at 18/19-year of age aren’t ready should be discarded and labelled a failure.

"It’s important that these young lads have a regular stage to play against older players and hone their craft as ultimately this will produce a higher calibre and number of Super League players which can only be beneficial to our game.

"When I was a kid coming through at Wigan Warriors, we had internationals playing in the reserve teams, we had thousands of people at Central Park watching us, and that's where you learn best as a youngster - from your older peers in a more pressurised environment. We’re extremely happy to see this rolled out from 2020 onwards.”

The reserve grade competition in 2020 will be administered by the RFL. The fixture schedule will be finalised during the winter but is expected to run on a home and away basis, with no play-offs.

Five further applications from clubs in Betfred Championship and League One have been received, with decisions to be made by the end of July.

Robert Elstone, Super League’s CEO, said: “Super League is about superstars - players that get us on the edge of our seats, players that make our jaws drop, players that inspire us.

“Our success will depend on our ability to find, nurture and create the superstars of tomorrow.

“It's why development pathways like this are so critical to the future success of the game.

“It is essential that we offer appropriate challenges to our young players on their journeys into Super League. A well-managed, resourced and competitive reserve grade will provide that.”