Hetherington insists Leeds’ strong Academy IS their reserve team

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington believes the Rugby Football League do not have ‘anywhere near enough’ knowledge to make a decision on whether to reintroduce reserve rugby – and says the case of Luke Briscoe proves there are merits to the existing system.

Reserve rugby is high on the agenda once again after Wigan declared they were considering scrapping their planned side for 2019. League Express understands a final decision has been made, leaving just Hull and Wakefield as the only top-flight sides with reserve teams.

Hetherington has always maintained that Leeds’ strong junior setup doubles up as their reserve team.The governing body must be prepared to conduct proper research into the impact a blanket return to reserves would have on the sport outside Super League, he says.

Hetherington told League Express: “I just do not believe that those in charge at the RFL and the governing body have anywhere near enough knowledge or expertise in this area to make a valid call.

“If we were like Australia, had an abundance of players and a proper three-tier system, then fine, but this can only be delivered if you’ve got the bottom of the pyramid right.

“We’re all fishing in the same pond for the same few talented players here, and I think our focus should be on widening those pools and working with community clubs to get more youngsters playing the game.”

Hetherington cited a figure in excess of £100,000 for Leeds to set up a reserve team from scratch if it was made mandatory in 2020 – and questioned whether there are better areas for the sport to be spending such sums of money.

“I wonder whether that money would be better spent in getting seven, eight and nine year olds playing our game,” he said.

“We should be providing better pathways for players to come into our Academy, instead of on 20 and 21 year olds who are catered for via the Championship. Luke Briscoe is a fine example; he came out of our system but we always believed he had the potential.

“He was initially too old to stay with us so he went into the Championship, played for Featherstone and, through his own ability, has now achieved a Super League contract.

“That’s a great example of how the Championship has become a perfectly good breeding ground for the game.”