Hetherington rejects RFL’s reserves policy

GARY HETHERINGTON has challenged Ralph Rimmer to explain his endorsement of the reserve-grade model after revealing he is against the return of a fully-fledged competition.

The RFL released a statement last week, with Rimmer saying the governing body “has been strong advocates” of the concept for many years.

Hetherington, however, is not, and believes its introduction could damage the game at other levels.

The Leeds chief executive has argued that their system has been shown to be successful, and has tasked Rimmer to do the same for reserve grade.

“Our reserve grade is our Academy, which is now producing players of Super League standard and quite a few of them,” said Hetherington.

“This year, Cameron Smith, Jack Walker, Mikolaj Oledzki and Harry Newman, all Academy-aged players, have been playing in our first team this year. And Widnes have benefited tremendously in the same manner.

“Those Academy players who get beyond the age of 19 who don’t make our first-team, they then populate the rest of the game free of charge, which tends to be the Championship. That’s for the benefit of the wider game.

“Of those players that graduate into Super League and play more than 20 first-team games, in almost all cases they’ve done it by the age of 18. There are few examples where a player makes a debut in his twenties and play a lot of games.

“I think a lot of what is said is based on ignorance. What Ralph Rimmer has got to do is back that statement up with actual fact and explanation. It’s an easy statement to make. He should now be challenged to back that up with facts, statistics and information based on the number of players playing the game and how the RFL are failing in that responsibility.

“He shouldn’t be allowed to just make a statement like that without challenge and a convincing argument that implementing a new competition that would cost money and threaten Academy and community clubs. If every club has to find another 25 to 30 players in will inevitably have to start pilfering the community game and the Championship.”

Leeds have spent many years using their Academy system as their reserve grade, while also sending players out to their dual-registration partner, Featherstone Rovers, to gain experience in the Championship.

Hetherington believes that is the correct strategy moving forward.

“The biggest single factor in all of this is what will aid the development of players the most, and we believe playing in the Championship helps them more than anything else. That should be the number one criterion when we look at this.

“The fundamental issue everyone seems to overlook is the chronic shortage of young players participating. That is our biggest challenge, to get more and more teenagers playing. All the professional clubs are fishing in the same pond and we don’t have the same wealth of numbers that say the NRL clubs enjoy.”