I’ve never been one to shy away from expressing my utter hatred of dual-registration. The short reason is that the concept is flawed and not fit for purpose.
The long reason is more complex, but in a nutshell, the idea that a player can rock up for a game before returning to his parent club the week after is wrong on so many levels. For starters, it brings the integrity of Championship and League 1 into disrepute when bonafide Super League athletes are being selected in one-off Championship fixtures.
Then there’s the fact these players are more often than not replacing part-time players, who often lose their match fees because of a player coming for some match practice. I could go on and on.
Results suggest clubs who utilise the system don’t have great success anyway. That’s a different debate altogether. But I’m a realist and the truth is that dual-reg isn’t going away anytime soon. So here’s a solution to help it serve its purpose better.
When dual-registration was first introduced, it was intended as a way to ensure young, emerging players would have a better chance of playing regularly at first-team level. It was not intended to be used as a way for the likes of Danny Richardson, a Super League Dream Team member last year, Brad Singleton and Sitaleki Akauola to blow off a few cobwebs.
The solution to that problem is simple. Make the top 23-players at every parent club instantly ineligible for dual-registration.
It should be stressed, however, that there have been success stories to come out of dual-registration. Liam Marshall spent the majority of the 2016 season at Swinton and is now one of Super League’s most prolific scorers with Wigan. Last year, St Helens centre Matty Costello spent the year playing for Sheffield Eagles and was named as the competition’s young player of the year.
Both these examples are of young players. Youngsters who were not quite ready for Super League.
Marshall’s development has seen him become a Super League standard winger. Costello has benefitted tremendously from his experience and impressed in St Helens’ victory over Salford on Thursday night. Aaron Smith, the promising St Helens hooker, is also benefitting from spending time with the Centurions. Harry Newman is emerging as one of the brightest young players in this country, due to his performances for Featherstone.
But here’s the thing. The players who are benefitting are youngsters. They are most certainly not seasoned-pros like Matty Smith, who played for Sheffield last year in what was a pivotal game for their opponents, Toulouse.
Capping off the top 23 players at a parent club would mean the lower-league club in any partnership would still have a pool of players to select from while ensuring that ringers aren’t turning up just to get rid of any match rust.
There’s no logical reason why this couldn’t be done, but of course, it won’t be. Why? Call me a cynic but certain clubs who use the system do so to bolster their squads with Super League-standard players as and when those are available, rather than to aid the development of young players.
Super League clubs, in particular, will probably argue that dual-reg is the only way they can ensure their out-of-favour players get regular first-grade action.
They could, of course, get a reserve grade. But what do I know?