Wigan and England star Sam Tomkins has described British rugby league’s failure to introduce a mandatory reserve competition as “absolute rubbish” – and believes all Super League sides should be forced to have a reserve side as part of the criteria of being in the top flight.
Only six sides in the entire country will operate with a reserve side this year – with only three in Super League: Wakefield, St Helens and Wigan, with the Warriors long-standing advocates of the system.
And Tomkins voiced his concerns for the future of player development in this country without more sides having reserve teams – saying the situation is appalling.
He said: “I just think having a reserves competition, a solid one, is a massive key to making homegrown players into the best in the world. We can’t expect kids to be ready to play at 19. If they’re not ready, they’re in a real uphill battle to get in and play.
“Yes, there are exceptions to the rule but there are kids at 19, some of them look 21 and some look 16, and it’s tough to prove yourself. It’s crazy that as a sport we want to grow and make our own players but we don’t have a reserve competition. I think it’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish. It should be a criteria that if you’re in Super League, you have a reserve grade.”
Tomkins also believes that the cost of doing it – some clubs have publicly stated it costs as little as £30,000 to run it – could be easily recouped, too.
He said: “I know it comes out of clubs’ pockets but clubs buy players they don’t need, plenty of overseas players who take up the amount it would cost to run a reserve side.
“Over time it develops you; look at the amount of players who have played reserve grade and the average age of an NRL player: it’s into the 20s. So what are we doing with our kids and our 19-year-olds?
“You’ve got to go to a club on dual-reg who you train once a week with, or a club that more often than not don’t want you. You’re meant to go and play up in Barrow and impress your head coach at Wigan or Warrington? It’s a tough ask – I just think it’s mad.”
And the fullback believes that even finding some sort of middle ground and introducing an under-21s side is at least one way of stopping promising players who are not ready to play first-team at 19 from disappearing from the sport.
He said: “Even if we had an under-21s system and kids who were 18 can play against lads who are a little bit older than them, at least that’s development. It’s hard on kids of 19 to say to them they’re going on loan all over – it’s crazy. If we want to make more British-born superstars, we’ve got to have a reserve comp.”