Every month, St Helens star Alex Walmsley writes in Rugby Leauge World, the best-selling magazine in the Northern Hemisphere. Last month, the 2015 Man of Steel nominee discussed the dual-registration and reserve grade system.
I am really pleased to see that more Super League clubs are considering plans to re-introduce reserve grades. I think it is a must, and it cannot be a coincidence that the top five clubs in the competition at the moment all currently have reserve grade sides.
Since the reduction to U19s, without a reserve grade, too many good players are being lost to Super League or the sport as a whole as a result of restricted opportunities. Players develop at different ages and different levels, and if you are not quite there by the time you reach 19, where do you go next if you can’t get into the first team?
With a reserve grade in place, there is an opportunity for players to remain at their club and continue to develop, it’s just another step up for them, from playing against young lads in the U19s to playing against more mature players with Super League experience in the reserves; it can only help them and there will be players who go on to make the first team who otherwise would have missed their chance because they weren’t quite ready at 19.
The reserves is also a place where established Super League players can work their way back from injury without being thrown straight back into the fray in front of 15,000 people in a must-win match. For example, Jonny Lomax at Saints was able to get a few games under his belt before coming back into the first team, and what an impact he made when he did!
The alternative to reserve grade has been dual registration and I don’t think that has worked at all.
That has led to a situation where Super League standard players have made fleeting appearances for Championship clubs, often at the drop of a hat, there one week, not there the next, which is disorientating for them and disrupting to the teams they are playing with.
As a player, when you are part of a team you learn certain structures, moves, techniques that you apply as part of your game plan. You train with and grow to know the players around you, and by instinct you’ll come to know how they play and what moves they will try during the game. If you are only there for one match, in a strange environment and with different coaching, you can’t possibly do that effectively, and you’ll be confusing to the other players around you too, who may also resent you being there, if we’re being honest.
Lads who play part-time rugby, they work all week, train when they can in their own time and get to the weekend expecting to play rugby, then they see their place in the team taken by some hot-shot from Super League who is either working their way back from injury or out of favour at their own club, how are they supposed to feel about that?
They are probably missing out on match payments too, which are a big deal when you play at semi-professional level.
I’m not against the idea of clubs having loan agreements, where younger players making their way in the game are loaned out to another club in order to gain game time and experience, but those are usually on a longer term basis, several weeks or months, where they can get to know the systems and the players around them. I’m against dropping Super League standard players into the Championship on a game-by-game basis though, which is what happens with dual-registration.
It also distorts the Championship competition, if a bunch of Super League players are drafted in for certain games but not others. It’s a tough league, the Championship, it deserves more respect.
It will be far better to increase the number of reserve grade sides at Super League clubs, so they have more opportunities for their players to play within their own environment. Not all of them will make it as full-time Super League first teamers, but those who don’t can still have other opportunities to make it with a Championship club on a long term basis.
I hope that the more clubs start up reserve grade again, we will reach critical mass and they will all decide to have one. My own view is that running a reserve grade side should be mandatory for Super League clubs.
The new edition of Rugby League World is out now. This month, Alex discusses the physical demands put on players under the Super 8s structure. Buy your copy in stores now or alternatively read online by clicking here.