Hull and Wakefield criticise Super League clubs’ approach to reserves

The two remaining Super League clubs who intend to run a reserve side in 2019 have hit out at the lack of commitment from fellow top-flight clubs on the issue – with both questioning the logic of teams being allowed to have multiple marquee players yet not fund a reserve team.

Hull and Wakefield are the only Super League teams that will run reserve sides in 2019, after Wigan indicated last week they will step back from the informal competition – which is also set to feature Championship sides such as Halifax and Bradford – due to a lack of commitment from other teams.

League Express understands that around two months ago, 14 clubs were in a meeting where all-but one supported reserve grade. 10 of those teams were understood to have backed the launch of a formal competition in 2019, before the reserves was made mandatory again in 2020.

Yet in the last six weeks, League Express has been told a number of clubs have now performed a u-turn – and Hull chief executive James Clark has now argued that clubs should only be allowed to sign high-earning overseas players if they tick several other boxes.

“Each club has their own business principles, but marquee signings should only be allowed if clubs can field an Academy, reserves and are profitable,” Clark told League Express.

“Some clubs are spending upwards of £150,000 on individual players, while facing financial uncertainty and even unable to form an Academy.

“We are fully committed to reserves and it should have happened this year, but through a lack of leadership and strategic focus we have wasted another twelve months.”

League Express has this week conducted a Super League-wide study on reserve grade, with 10 of the 11 English-based top-flight teams sharing their stance on the issue.

Of those 10, nine indicated they would support a move to make reserves mandatory: with Leeds the exception. At least three proposed that changing the age bracket of under-19s Academy rugby back to under-18s would facilitate greater opportunities for reserve teams to thrive. 

However, Wakefield chief executive Michael Carter has insisted that clubs who are promising to commit must actually do so to avoid a repeat of the situation in 12 months’ time.

“I’m disappointed about the lack of buy-in,” he said.

“Everyone has turned around and said they would enter if it was competitive, but that’s a vicious circle we’re in the middle of. Unless someone grabs the bull by the horns and says it’s mandatory, there’s an awful chance that this time next year, we’ll be in the same position.”

Carter also echoed Clark’s comments about clubs’ spending on marquee players while not committing to reserve rugby.

“I don’t think it’s right that a club can employ one, or even two, marquee players but not have £30,000 spare – because that’s how much it’s cost us. 

“It shouldn’t need the governing body to stand over us, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. It’s woeful on behalf of club management that we may have to need the governing body to do that.”