COLUMN | Don’t just ‘support’ reserve grade, RFL, make it happen

Reserve grade has been the talk of the sport this week.

Gareth Walker’s excellent article in the Daily Mirror this week has sparked talk among players past and present, supporters and coaches alike.

The general consensus? A fully-fledged re-launch of reserve grade would be a monumental boost to the sport game-wide.

So when the Rugby Football League issued a statement in response on Thursday, it looked to be the answer to the sport’s long-held prayers.

That was until one line.

“The decision sits with clubs.”

The whole statement was a cop-out.

The governing body comes in for some unjust criticism but its unwillingness to be pro-active on reserve grade is infuriating.

Are there any negatives to the sport having a compatible, game-wide reserve grade competition? No, other than the costs that certain clubs claim they can’t afford (that’s an argument for a different day).

But if the benefits and advantages are so blatantly apparent, why is the RFL, the body in charge of working in the best interests of the game, not doing everything in its power to make this happen?

Ralph Rimmer has come out and said he completely supports reserve grade. Great. But then says the RFL ‘can extend and develop the competition framework accordingly’. No, do it, and don’t give the clubs a choice!

Clubs against reserve grade can argue all they like, but anyone who believes any club competing at the top level of the game does not have a duty to develop players is categorically wrong. There are many clubs who don’t run a reserve grade but have scholarship and academy programmes, that should be stated, but the various figures and countless examples at clubs running reserve grade prove its value to the sport.

If costs are truly the problem for clubs – you’ll struggle to convince many that’s the case when Halifax and Keighley can raise the money to do it, then the RFL should be doing every in its power to provide a structure that is fully compatible and realistically achievable for all involved. The decision to stand back and let the clubs quibble and bicker over the subject themselves has resulted in a half-arsed reserve grade structure while others use the dreaded dual-reg setup that the vast majority of players dislike, while certain clubs use it to give their senior players game-time, thus defeating the entire purpose of the system in the first place.

And if you’re not going to listen to me, then listen to the players, who have unanimously let their voice be heard this week. The number of players who say reserve grade is the answer, who say they wouldn’t have got to where they are without reserve grade, and those who say they would have benefitted greatly from it, tells you everything you need to know.

Now is the time to take action, not the time to dish out non-committal, good-will statements.