Two of the men tasked with developing the stars of the future at Wigan Warriors have expressed their concern about a lack of opportunities for young players, after it emerged that reserve rugby will not return in 2021.
The Warriors were among several clubs who handed professional debuts to a number of Academy graduates last week, with Wigan issuing six debuts during their 0-42 defeat to St Helens. It was the first time many of those players had played for almost six months, following the curtailment of both the under-19s and the reserve seasons.
And Wigan’s transition coach Darrell Goulding, who has helped nurture the likes of Sam Halsall and Umyla Hanley (pictured), who made their debuts last week, told League Express he was worried about the future development of young players if there are to be fewer opportunities.
“We know reserves won’t be in place next season – that won’t be happening,” he revealed.
“The plan is that it’s set in stone that it’s coming back the following year (2022), but it’s a concern with the financial situation many clubs are facing across the board. What position will we be in by then? How many kids will have lost out on vital development opportunities?
“We do simulate plenty of situations in training where we replicate games, but nothing can really replicate that match experience. For understandable reasons, our young lads, and young lads everywhere, just aren’t getting that right now.”
Goulding’s thoughts were echoed by Warriors’ assistant Matty Peet, who has been involved in the developmental system at Wigan for several years.
Peet said: “Next year, we should be able to work around it to the best of our ability with dual-registration and loans.”
“We’ve been through it before where we didn’t have reserve grade and I think we can manage it again. What’s challenging is the rest of this season, where lads are going to get a game every six or seven weeks if they’re lucky.”
Goulding continued: “It’s very concerning. At Wigan, as you know, we’re fully behind the reserves system. It was working this year, but I believe next year there will be none of that. It’s concerning with more periods where kids aren’t playing and you can’t expect them to just be ready to play Super League.”
However, both Peet and Goulding insisted they were proud of how Wigan’s youngsters responded to the challenge of facing the Super League champions.
“We would never put anyone in who wasn’t ready for it – they’ve just had the most awful preparation, haven’t they,” Peet said.
“We were concerned about how they’d cope physically, but they were great and I have to say that St Helens handled them with a lot of respect too.”
Goulding said: “We put a lot of pride into youth development here. It’s been so long between games for a lot of them, and they were fantastic. It bodes well for the future. You just hope they’re going to have lots of good opportunities to continue playing moving forward.”
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