COLUMN: Do the RFL need to make reserve grade compulsory once again?

It’s the elephant in the room which simply will not go away: and that’s why the RFL now need to step in and take matters into their own hands when it comes to reserve grade rugby league.

The issue reared its ugly head again over the weekend when it emerged that a handful of Hull KR players had gone to St Helens to get some game-time, featuring for their reserve side in the process during a game against Keighley. That’s quite the journey – almost from one side of the M62 to the other!

The RFL’s stance on whether clubs should have reserve teams has been made abundantly clear in the past. If clubs feel they can do it, let them do it: they aren’t going to push them.

Well enough of that.

It’s time for the RFL to get serious now and use their authority – if they have to effectively blackmail clubs into getting reserve teams, then do it. I heard one train of thought recently from a former player, who said that the RFL should reduce their salary cap spend by a certain figure – and we’re talking tens of thousands – if you don’t want to take part and have reserve grade.

Given how 10 of the 12 clubs spend the full salary cap at the moment, I bet that would suddenly see a change in tact from a few of them when it comes to have a reserve team. You could even do it the other way; hand clubs who want to run reserve grade some extra cash to reward them for doing so.

Some Championship and League 1 sides manage to do it, so why can’t all Super League clubs? There’s a bigger issue at play here too; St Helens – who are rightly advocates of reserve grade – have told the story of how if they didn’t have a reserve side around the time James Roby was coming through the ranks then who knows, he could have been lost to the sport at a much younger age.

Not all players bloom in their teens: some take a few more years to establish themselves as proper first-team Super League players. Having reserve grade as the middle-ground between under-19s and first-team affords clubs a bit more time to make their mind up on players who aren’t fully developed yet by the time they get to 19. We could, effectively, be throwing away future international players because there’s no breeding ground for them past a certain age. It’s madness.

It’s sad that we’ve reached a situation where Hull KR players are hopping over to St Helens to make up their numbers and so they can get a bit of game-time themselves. The RFL have a golden opportunity to sort that out though: and if they do, it’ll be a game-wide benefit, not just one or two clubs.

Come down hard on clubs. Tell them they’re having reserve grade whether they like it or not. Of course there are logistical barriers to be overcome: but without even giving it a go, we’re risking the future of the sport more than you might first realise.