Garry Schofield takes up the theme of rookies in Super League in 2021
I was intrigued by the recent League Express headline ‘Rookies to excite us in 2021’.
It was a really interesting article which picked out twelve players – all of whom have featured in ten or fewer Super League matches – to look out for this season. You can read it here on TotalRL.com.
Those in question were Lewis Peachey (Castleford), Arthur Mourgue (Catalans), Owen Trout (Huddersfield), Ben McNamara (Hull), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Jack Broadbent (Leeds), Craig Mullen (Leigh), Sam Luckley (Salford), Lewis Dodd (St Helens), Yusuf Aydin (Wakefield), Ellis Robson (Warrington) and Umyla Hanley (Wigan).
Two things came to mind as I read about each of the players.
One was their age, the youngest being Umyla Hanley, who turns 19 on Friday (happy forthcoming birthday, by the way). It’s not really that young, is it?
And the second was how many matches will any of them actually play this season.
Other than Craig Mullen and Sam Luckley, who at 23 and 25 respectively, have both been around in the lower divisions for a while, I suspect not many.
In fact I’d go so far as to say if the remaining ten make 50 appearances between them, I’d be surprised.
I think that’s a crying shame, and such a short-sighted selection policy will only have a negative effect on the standard of the domestic game, and ultimately, the Great Britain team, in the future.
There just aren’t enough opportunities being given to young players. Not enough coaches are willing to back their judgement on a teenager and stick with him even if the going gets a little tough. Because if they believe in them they should know that, with that vital experience of playing matches, the chances are they will come good in time.
Turn back the clock, and there have been plenty of teenagers making a big impression.
The obvious example is Alex Murphy, who was banging the door down to play first-team rugby for St Helens at 16, was a regular at 18, and toured Australia with Great Britain, helping the Lions win the 1958 Ashes series, at 19.
And a few years later came Roger Millward, who played for Great Britain at 18.
Fast forward to my own time as a player, and I was proud to make my Hull debut at 17 and become the then youngest-ever Great Britain tourist at 18, when the party also included Umyla Hanley’s dad Ellery.
Also in that Lions squad were the likes of Lee Crooks and Joe Lydon, who both started young, and also making waves at the time was Shaun Edwards, who signed for Wigan in a blaze of publicity on his 17th birthday in 1983 and was soon shining either at scrum-half and fullback.
Just a few of the others who were given, and took, their chance as teenagers were Denis Betts, Andy Farrell, Bobbie Goulding, Mike Gregory, Paul Newlove, Jason Robinson and Paul Wellens.
I could go on and on, but where are the new versions of these players?
Youngsters just aren’t getting the opportunities they need to develop, and it’s a big worry.
The lack of a meaningful reserve competition has been very telling.
In past times, ‘A’ team rugby was competitive and featured experienced players who were either out of form or coming back from injury, meaning it was a great place for youngsters to learn their trade and become used to the physical and mental demands of the game at an earlier age.
It was proper rugby, but there wasn’t quite the same level of pressure as in the first team, so developing players could make mistakes, learn from them, and move on without as much damage being done, either to the team or the individual.
But the open-age competition was allowed to dwindle, and the version brought back last year after a 23-year gap was a pale comparison.
‘A’ team rugby bridged that gap between the junior game and first-team level and meant young players were more battle-hardened if and when they were called up.
Some young players have been able to go out on either loan or dual-registration, but there aren’t enough opportunities to go around, and neither avenue has been perfect, particularly dual-registration, which meant appearances were often sporadic.
And, of course, the pandemic put the brakes on both the Championship and League One as well as the new version of the reserve competition last year, therefore further limiting opportunities for youngsters to get games.
I don’t buy into the so-called pathway supposedly provided by the Scholarship and Academy systems, because there’s no real evidence of enough ‘oven-ready’ players being produced.
And with the abandonment of the Academy Championship this year, an already imperfect system is even more so.
The other problem is clubs bringing in overseas players and coaches’ over-reliance on them.
A limited number of imports can certainly enhance our game, but too many of the arrivals are journeymen who aren’t providing value for money and are preventing homegrown products getting the matches they so badly need.
Let’s cut the number allowed.
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