A tide, we sense, is changing. Not astronomically, perhaps, but certainly trickles of a future of partnerships between grassroots and professional clubs. For too long, has there been a harsh divide between the NCL and the professional game, with the only time the two worlds collide being through the Challenge Cup.
But, now, the future seems to be pointing towards more intimate relations between the amateur and professional game, certainly beneath the sport’s top tier. The 2019 pre-season schedule can only be a positive sign, with Rochdale Hornets facing Rochdale Mayfield in the ‘Battle of the Borough’ to compete for the Stephen Gartland Memorial Trophy.
Add to that NCL winners Hunslet Parkside’s participation in the newly resurrected Yorkshire Cup against the likes of Bradford, York, Batley, Dewsbury, Featherstone, Halifax and neighbours Hunslet, and the amateur game seems to be slowly being welcomed into the professional game.
And while Parkside’s addition to the Yorkshire Cup was due to Keighley Cougars’ withdrawal following off-field problems, the Hornets and Mayfield link was far more calculated. The two cubs will join together in a formal relationship, with the pre-season friendly just a scratch of the surface, with the following aims in mind:
- A joint Rugby League World Cup 2021 bid to redevelop facilities at Rochdale Mayfield
- Free Hornets season tickets for every junior player with a launch at a Hornets fixture
- Curtain raiser spots for Mayfield junior teams at the Crown Oil Arena
- Rochdale Hornets Sporting Foundation to support the school to community club transition by guiding beginners to Mayfield
- Provide professional first team opportunities by working with the Mayfield head coach to progress talented athletes
- Rochdale Hornets Sporting Foundation to deliver holiday programmes in conjunction with Mayfield
- Hornets to train at Mayfield throughout the spring and summer (captain’s run)
- Hornets staff and players supporting Mayfield junior sessions
A measured agreement, it has to be said, for both clubs to utilise their resources and passion for the game, and there’s no reason why Hunslet Parkside can’t benefit similarly long-term with their share of the gate receipts from the Yorkshire Cup. And, of course, these are not isolated examples in Rugby League.
Batley Bulldogs allow local side Batley Boys to use their facilities, while York City Knights are known to have active relations with local sides York Acorn and Heworth RLFC, but certainly in the upper echelons of the game there seems to be a reluctance to welcome the grassroots game on a formal level.
And while many players are lost from the professional ranks to the amateur game, the likes of St Helens’ Alex Walmsley and Salford Red Devils’ Derrell Olpherts have proven that there is still a pathway for players, but far too often do NCL players get less attention than they deserve.
Featherstone Rovers have recently launched a reserve grade, filled with players from the amateur game across Yorkshire, another example of how a Championship outfit has formally embraced the game’s foundation at grassroots level, but the attitude in the top tier does not reflect the recent welcoming nature of their Championship and League 1 counterparts.