Do we really need to get smaller?

League Express 23 Sept 2013League Express Editorial, Monday 23rd Sept 2013

On Wed 18 Sept, League Express held its annual Albert Goldthorpe Lunch at Headingley, and we were delighted to make the Gold Medal award to Huddersfield’s Danny Brough and the silver medal to Hull FC’s Tom Lineham as the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year.
It was a wonderful occasion for an award that rewards a player for his performances throughout the season, much as the Dally M Awards do in Australia, and is decided on the objective method of our reporters awarding points in every Super League match during the year.
The Rookie of the Year award, for which a player qualifies if they have played fewer than ten first-grade games going into a season, was won by Tom Lineham from what was the strongest field since the inauguration of the award in 2008. There have been more outstanding young British players not only emerging into first grade in 2013, but also establishing themselves as first-choice Super League players.
That, to us, is an indication of the quality of the development work at some of our leading clubs. And it shows that the professional youth structure was creating the environment for more young players to flourish.
In the light of that, it was puzzling when last year the Rugby Football League allowed clubs, for what are thought to be financial reasons, to decide that the 18s and 20s tiers would be merged into under-19s for this season. We are still not sure what the medium or long term effect of that will be, but short term it meant fewer opportunities for players to develop at an elite professional level. Dual registration was introduced to try and soften the blow for Super League clubs, but it would be hard to claim that it has been a success.
Last year the RFL could hold its hand up and say ‘the clubs made the decision’, as it had made a sensible recommendation to continue with two tiers.
But now the jungle drums suggest that the RFL board is to recommend that the Academy competition, which involved 14 clubs this season, including Championship clubs Sheffield and Featherstone, is to become ten. And because that will mean fewer British players will be emerging, Super League clubs will be allowed to sign more non-Federation trained players to fill their teams!
We must be missing something, but this has all the hallmarks of a master plan to shrink our sport. Thankfully there is still time for the RFL and the club bosses to think again.