The RFL and Super League have confirmed that mandatory reserve grade will finally return next season.
As revealed in League Express earlier this year, the 11 English top-flight clubs have approved a proposal for all Super League clubs, and clubs with Category 1 funded Academies outside Super League – Widnes Vikings and Bradford Bulls – to have a mandated reserve team.
Five further applications from clubs in Championship and League One have been received, with decisions to be made by the end of July. The launch of Reserve Grade will be accompanied by a change in the regulations surrounding the Academy, which will now become an Under-18s competition rather than Under-19s, as at present. The dual registration and loan systems will remain unaffected.
Currently only a handful of clubs – including just two in Super League, Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity – operate reserve sides.
Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Interim Chief On-Field Officer, said: “We have listened to the views of stakeholders – clubs, coaches and players – before making this proposal.
“The majority view is that the game would benefit from the reintroduction of a Reserve Grade competition, primarily as a next step in the development of players between Academy and senior rugby, but also to provide regular rugby for players on the fringe of selection, returning from injury, and a platform for later developers.
“It was important in making what is a significant change that we also took into account the impact on the other professional competitions – Betfred Championship and League One – and also the community game.”
Robert Elstone, Super League’s CEO, said: “Super League is about superstars – players that get us on the edge of our seats, players that make our jaws drop, players that inspire us. Our success will depend on our ability to find, nurture and create the superstars of tomorrow. It’s why development pathways like this are so critical to the future success of the game.
“It is essential that we offer appropriate challenges to our young players on their journeys into Super League. A well-managed, resourced and competitive reserve grade will provide that.”
Lee Radford, the head coach of Hull FC who have continued to play reserve team fixtures in recent years despite the absence of a structured competition, said: “I know from personal playing experience the value of reserve team rugby, and I’ve also seen it at Hull in the last few years. I signed for Bradford at 18 but didn’t become a regular first-teamer until 22 or 23, and without the years I had in reserves learning my trade, I might have been left in the wings.
“It gave me the grounding for first-team football, playing against some experienced Super League players. It also means clubs won’t be having to make difficult decisions on 19-year-olds, when some players – especially in the pack – tend to develop a bit later. I look at lads at Hull FC like Jamie Shaul, Chris Green and this season Kieran Buchanan, who have all benefited from reserve team rugby before getting their first-team chance.”
The Reserve Grade competition in 2020 will be administered by the RFL. The fixture schedule will be finalised during the winter but is expected to run on a home and away basis, with no play-offs.