Mandatory reserve grade rugby could be set to move a step closer after plans were floated by the Rugby Football League for all clubs with the highest-ranking Academy status to run a second-string team as early as 2020.
There are currently eleven Academies regarded as Category 1 by the RFL: Wigan, St Helens, Warrington, Widnes, Castleford, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, Catalans, and the City of Hull Academy.
Yet only two English-based Super League teams – Hull FC and Wakefield – run fully-operational reserve teams, following the withdrawal of Wigan and St Helens on the eve of this season. Lower-league sides such as Bradford, Halifax and Keighley also have second-string teams.
And League Express has now learned that clubs in the top-flight were this week informed of early-stage plans from the game’s governing body to finally take a significant step towards making reserves mandatory.
The proposal involves any club with a Category 1 Academy being made to incorporate a reserve team into their club infrastructure from next year – with League Express also being told the proposals could yet result in under-19s Academy sides becoming under-18s, allowing for more players to play reserve grade rather than Academy rugby.
Catalans would be an exception to the system, with their reserve team continuing to operate in the French system as is the case now.
League Express has been told the proposals are still at a very early stage, and are some way from being approved yet – but the chances of it being approved and introduced for 2020 were described as ‘far more likely’ than they were this time 12 months ago.
The approach to reserve grade rugby from clubs across the board remains mixed. At the start of this year, League Express conducted a survey with all the English-based Super League clubs – with the likes of Leeds Rhinos still remaining defiant that their dual-registration arrangement with Championship side Featherstone Rovers acts as their de facto reserve team.
However, should these proposals go through, it would potentially mean Leeds – along with all other clubs with a Category 1 Academy – having a reserve team.