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Opinion: How to end dual-registration madness

Opinion: How to end dual-registration madness

by: Gareth Walker, August 6, 2014, 2:44 pm

It’s been a fair few months since I have written in any depth about those two most divisive of Championship words, dual registration.

But there was no avoiding the controversial system last week, when the RFL confirmed that they were investigating the possibility that ineligible players were fielded on Sunday July 27.

This article originally appeared in this week’s edition of League Express newspaper. Click here to download the digital version to your computer, smartphone or tablet

The three players and clubs in question are Jacob Fairbank at Batley Bulldogs, Sam Wood for Dewsbury Rams and Ben Crooks at Doncaster.

The situation has arisen because of the rule stating that any dual-registration player has to have figured in three games for their Championship club before the deadline of July 25, to play in matches after that.

None of those three players had, although there are exceptions to the rule, such as which salary cap band the player is in (the rules doesn’t apply to players earning under £20,000), and whether the player has been unavailable through injury.

The RFL is expected to decide whether to charge the clubs this week.
But one thing is absolutely certain – that won’t be the end of the matter.

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There are clubs on both sides of this argument that are making their cases vehemently, albeit privately.

Each of the three clubs that are currently in the spotlight will defend themselves, and at least one official at one of those clubs is ready to reveal documents in relation to the matter if they are charged this week.

On the other side, clubs not being investigated and who are involved in the dogfight against relegation this season are fuming about the situation, and will make their feelings known if points deductions are not enforced.

One coach of those clubs made the point that if only fines are handed out, what’s to stop him fielding ineligible players in matches between now and the end of the season, and just copping the monetary punishment after staying up?

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I spent all Friday on the phone to Championship officials and coaches, and several of them admit they are unclear on several of the rules.

In particular, the fact that those dual-registration agreements could be turned into loans so that the players could feature again at the weekend has caused plenty of bad feeling.

In short, the whole thing is a mess.

While acknowledging that dual-registration can bring benefits and that the system can work for young players, Championship Focus has never been shy of expressing its opposition to several elements of the way it is used at present.

These kinds of problems were always likely to surface once the Super League chief executives made the inexplicable decision to have a gap between their under-19s sides and their first team.

Players who are too old to play in the Academy have nowhere to play regularly if they can’t find a Championship club with whom to dual register. Championship clubs should never have been used a tool to bridge that gap.

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Young players can undoubtedly benefit from regular first-team action in the Championship, but using the competition as fitness tests for senior players is surely wrong.

Dual-registration is set to stay for next season, however. So what can be done to improve the system?

The move to only three players being permitted for each match is a good one and should be welcomed.

But I’d also suggest two other measures.

One is that the players involved should not have played more than 12 Super League matches.

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The Super League clubs now have the option to reintroduce under-23s teams, though not many have rushed to incorporate it. If they don’t want to do that, they can no longer rely on Championship clubs to give their players game time.

The 12 match rule would also get away from including an unnecessary salary cap element. I can’t be the only one thinking how unfair it is that players’ wages became the subject of public discussion.

Secondly, any dual-registered players set to feature in the Championship at the weekend must be named on a Thursday, and then cleared by the RFL to play.

That would get around the shenanigans of last weekend, and perhaps just as importantly appease Championship coaches who rightly say that preparing their team to face some teams is impossible when you don’t know who you’re facing until literally one hour before kick-off.

On that point, the Championship coaches don’t feel that they are consulted on these issues or anything else. But could they have a constructive input?

This article originally appeared in this week’s edition of League Express newspaper. Click here to download the digital version to your computer, smartphone or tablet

There are other issues to be sorted as well for next year, when the new structures will provide further problems for dual-registration.

Some Championship coaches are concerned that relegated Bradford and London, who will already have the significant benefit of much more central funding and the ability to maintain full structures under the first team (which isn’t afforded to the current Championship clubs), will also be able to dual-register players. Is that fair?

One Championship official described the current situation as a “minefield” last week.

It’s one that quickly needs clearing up.

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