Leading figures in the development of young players have voiced concerns about “restrictive” new procedures that threaten to deny stars of the future the chance to turn professional.
New compensation rules entitle clubs to £10,000 if a 16-year-old player that has been on a two-year scholarship signs an Academy contract with a rival club.
Clubs can demand the five-figure fee for a teenager, despite the fact that the player will not have been paid a penny by the club during his scholarship period.
As a result, most players are almost tied down to the club that they join on a scholarship as a 14-year-old, and must hope that their career can take off at that club.
There are now fears that some of the sport’s most talented youngsters will drop out of the game altogether as their pathways to becoming professional sportsmen are substantially blocked.
Peter Riding, the head of youth at Castleford Tigers, believes the cost involved in taking one player from another club is too expensive and leaves players in an uncompromising position.
“The odds of a player making it at the top level has been shortened now in my opinion,” he said.
“If a club wants to take on a player, they’ve got to pay the compensation and then roughly £15,000 on wages for three years.
“So over three years you’re asking a club to pay £25,000 on a player who might make it. It’s a crazy situation in my opinion.
“I honestly think this year there will be some players who are offered a contract but don’t to take it, but now under the current restrictions, he might just decide to step away or go to rugby union because he has no other alternative. I’m genuinely fearful that will happen.
“It should be a player’s choice at 16 for him to go to the best environment he feels is best for his development.”
But the new rulings are not only threatening to damage a player’s on-field development.
John Bastian, the current head of youth at Bradford Bulls, believes that the new rules have made it much more difficult for players to earn a wage that reflects their ability.
“When a player finishes his scholarship, the minimum a club can offer a player at 16 years of age is £3,000 per annum,” he explained.
“But if you’ve got a top England junior international and he’s at a club that offers him £3,000 for the year, the chances are he will feel he’s worth more money than that.
“But with the new rulings, it’s difficult for him to go to a club that will pay him what he believes to be his value because there is some compensation that has to be paid and not a lot will pay that.
“So at that point you have to accept a low contract and work your way through the ranks, and there’s not a lot the player can do about that. I don’t think it’s right.
“His other option is to not sign a contract and stop playing, perhaps play another sport instead.
“There’s an element of danger in what is being done. There will be a percentage that are not happy with what is in place. There’s no get-out clause for these kids, and they have to make this decision at the age of 14.”
Both Riding and Bastian agree that clubs need protection from players being tapped up by other clubs. However, the pair claim that there are a number of logistical reasons that make the current procedures unfit for purpose.
“You might have a player at a club who has four international players ahead of him in that position,” Riding said.
“So moving is probably a better option for him, but ultimately now the chance of him getting that opportunity is unlikely with these rules.
“Clubs have invested into an individual for two years and there has to be some sort of payback, but I just really feel as it is, it’s not right.
“The whole system from scholarship to Academy needs looking at. We need to get round a table and thrash this out as we’re at a real crossroads.”
Bastian added: “The other thing to consider is that a lot of these players have a long way to go in their development in just making it to Super League at that age, not all of them will even make it through to the top level. But we’re making it harder for them to go and find opportunities now which damages their chances even more.
“For the best interest in the game and the young players, there has to be some sort of agreement between the clubs that he can move on to somewhere else.”