England’s Academy captain issues warning as he leaves for union

A rugby union-bound Castleford player has warned that more players could follow in his footsteps if the sport doesn’t do more to nurture its future stars.

Callum McLelland left Castleford last week to take up a contract with Scottish Rugby Union.

His conversion to the 15-man code marks the departure of one of the brightest up-and-coming players in British Rugby League. The teenager captained England Academy in their recent Test series with France and was expected to break into the Castleford first-team in the years to come.

However, he will now continue his career away from the sport, becoming the first player to join Scottish Rugby League’s ‘Scottish Qualified programme.’

As a result, he will train full-time enhancing his skills with Edinburgh Blues and will play for Scotland in the Under-20s Six Nations.

The aim of the scheme is to give players with international potential the opportunity to make it at the elite level.

Speaking to League Express, McLelland, who always intended to have a career in Rugby League, believes more will follow him if the sport doesn’t improve its treatment of tomorrow’s stars.

“You could be the brightest star in Rugby League but the opportunities don’t compare to those in union,” he claimed.

“Lads in Rugby League don’t get opportunities like this, to travel the world and represent your country constantly through the year. It’s a life-changer for my family to be able to live up in Edinburgh and I can really start to make a name for myself.

“The opportunities are endless. There isn’t the chance to play in different countries at a high level. Young lads, especially in England, don’t get the chances like they should. I could get the chance to play in the Under-20s World Cup next year.”

McLelland’s biggest concern is the paucity of pathways from Academy level to first-team, an issue that is drawing greater attention as more young players share their grievances.

Several coaches have endorsed a fully-fledged reserve grade, and McLelland shares those views.

“If we are going to keep talents in the game they need to be looked at more seriously,” he said.

“I think reserve grade is massive. You can tell when clubs that have it put young lads in their team; they don’t look out of place. That’s a massive step for me because I think reserves are a step closer to first-team than 19s.

“After that you either get chucked out on loan or just train. If there was a competition for reserves I think it would produce more young players.

“If there are any bright talents in the game they should be made a priority. There needs to be assurances about opportunities and contracts, but at the moment a lot of lads don’t have that.”

Craig Harrison, McLelland’s agent, added that many more could follow the youngster as talent scouts continue to assess the Rugby League scene.

“We must try and secure our best talent by creating a vibrant Under-18s competition and a reserve competition,” said Harrison.

“The international game for youngsters also needs improvement. We need facilities and a competition worthy of the effort these kids put into being a professional.”