Wigan winger Tom Davies believes the governing of Rugby League in this country is a ‘shambles’ – and has expressed his concern over the amount of players being lost to the game as the reserves row continues.
Davies is arguably one of the biggest examples of how a reserve pathway can develop Super League talent; having been overlooked throughout his teenage years before eventually being picked up by Wigan at the age of 18.
He then played under-19s and, more crucially, reserves rugby to help get him ready for Super League – and told League Express that there are dozens of promising prospects being lost to the game every year without a mandatory reserve competition.
“Realistically, I think the way the sport is being run at the minute is a shambles – look at the Catalans incident with the cup as an example,” Davies said.
“No other professional sport is doing this: how bad are things getting? It needs an overhaul in terms of how we’re doing things. Look at football academies; they have under-16s, under-18s, under-23s and there’s a clear pathway to the first-team.
“American Football have a similar path, but once you get to 19 in Rugby League, you’re done. Who’s 100% completely ready to play Super League at 19? Only a handful of players, if that.”
Davies also admits he knows of players personally that have suffered from the lack of reserve grade, saying: “There’s a massive talent pool that’s not being used; I’ve got friends who fell out of the system and weren’t selected at 19, but if you look at them now at 20 or 21, they’re far better players and they’d probably have a chance of making it.
“We’re losing half the talent out there because players simply aren’t ready to go at 21. My case is a prime example; I only got picked up late at 18, and I did a year-and-a-half in the under-19s and went to Swinton on loan, and it’s a bit of a farce.
“You’re having to go into different clubs and different systems because it’s the only option – how’s that fair? Whether it’s reserves or something else.. we’re going backwards.”
Davies’ own story, however, is far more encouraging – having battled his way through the hard way before also considering a career in rugby union when it looked as though a route to professional Rugby League was impossible.
He said: “This time four years ago, I was still playing for St Pats in the under-18s and I’ll admit I came to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to make it.
“I accepted that I would play amateur rugby and get a job, but luckily I eventually got picked up. It’s happened very quickly but I’m thankful every day to live the life I do.
“I gave up on league and went to Fylde. One of my coaches asked if I wanted to give it a go, and I planned a career there playing semi-professional. It was George Williams’ dad who asked me to come back to Pats because they were low on players and before you know it, I’m being offered a trial in the under-19s.
“You just have to never give up and keep going, and that’s what I tell young aspiring players I speak to nowadays.”
This story first appeared in Monday’s issue of League Express.