Gareth Walker talks to two new Super League signings who benefited from a Championship apprenticeship

In the modern game, the most common route to becoming a Super League player is through the junior systems at a top-flight club.
Players join a scholarship scheme, progress through the Academy as full-time junior, and then, if they are good enough, make their first-team bow.
But it isn’t the only route to the top, as new Warrington threequarter duo Keanan Brand and Matty Ashton (pictured) can testify.
Both of them have been in those exact systems – Brand when Widnes were in the top-flight and Ashton briefly at Salford.
But both had to take different paths to earn another shot at Super League. And both believe that their games, and readiness to make an impact, benefited from their extensive time in the Championship.
Centre Brand actually made his Super League debut after coming through Widnes’ system, but a broken leg cruelly curtailed it just seven minutes into the match at Hull KR.
By the time he had recovered to make his second appearance, the Vikings were Championship-bound, and Brand had a number of offers on the table to join rival top-flight clubs.
But with no reserve grade at the time, he felt his career would be better served playing first-team rugby in the second tier. And 32 appearances and nine tries later, he earned his move to the Wolves.
“It definitely helped,” Brand said of his Championship stint.
“If you think about it, there are other kids the same age as me at Wigan or Warrington who haven’t been playing at all.
“We were playing every week against men, getting regular games, and it can only do us good.
“When Widnes got relegated, in the off-season I was tempted to leave and I could have gone to a few clubs.
“But I decided to stay in the Championship and I think that’s the best decision I could have made.
“That year gave me a really good opportunity to play against men and experience that physicality.”
Ashton’s 2019 season is well documented, but what is not as well known is that he was on Salford’s books before being released.
His 2018 season in Australia was more about a life experience than being part of a grand plan to play Super League, and on his return he was left out of Swinton’s team at the start of last season.
But once he got a Lions’ shirt in the Championship, his confidence began to grow.
“Last year I just wanted to play a few games for Swinton, show what I could do and sustain a spot there,” he explained.
“From not being picked at the start of the year to eventually doing what I did surprised even me, but I was very happy with it and need to take it forward now.
“I tried to stay confident, but at the back of my head I started to wonder whether it was for me, and whether I was going to get anywhere.
“But as soon as I made my debut and scored two tries I thought I could do something.
“I’d always wanted it, but coming up through the years and seeing all my mates get scholarships and me get left out, it did knock my confidence a bit.
“But once I started playing for Swinton it really hit home that I could actually make a dream come true.
“Last year definitely helped.
“There are some top teams in the Championship and it’s not an easy league at all.
“Playing every week helped show what I can do and hopefully I can do that in Super League.”
The pair have been training partners in pre-season and both have made it clear that they have not joined Warrington to play reserve grade, despite the fact there will be internationals ahead of them in their chosen positions.
They have already shown the kind of focus and determination to suggest they should not be underestimated, which should inspire any young players whose careers don’t tread the most well-worn paths.