Inside RL: Rhinos fall foul of a rule that’s not fit for purpose

Gary Hetherington.
Gary Hetherington.
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The RFL’s compliance department must have had a close look at the sport’s law book to discover operational rule C1:1:6.

That basically prevents clubs from allowing anyone who is not on their register to play, train or do conditioning with them.

So best cancel the annual sponsors’ training day then.

Leeds Rhinos have fallen foul of that particular rule and been fined £2,000, half of which is suspended until the end of the current season.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington isn’t happy and has said Rhinos will consider whether it’s worth appealing against the governing body’s decision.

It isn’t, really, because Rhinos are bang to rights. They are not denying that Featherstone Rovers’ Jordan Baldwinson, Thomas Minns, Mason Tonks and Alex Foster, plus James Duckworth and Luke Briscoe of Hunslet Hawks, have trained with Leeds since joining their current club.

But Rhinos are right to raise the issue, because it seems to be one of those laws which is actually preventing good practice and wasn’t originally drawn up to be used in a case like this.

A few weeks ago The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed the RFL were investigating Leeds, Featherstone and Hunslet over the off-season transfers of the six players mentioned above.

That arose from a complaint by one of Featherstone’s and Hunslet’s Kingstone Press Championship rivals. The six players all signed a one-year deal at their new club, with a view to returning to Leeds in 2016. In other words, they aren’t on loan or dual-registration in the Championship, they are either Featherstone’s or Hunslet’s player for this season.

There are restrictions on the number of players clubs can sign on dual-registration or loan and it is understood the original complaint was that the one-year arrangements were being used as a way around that.

Whether that’s the case or not, there are no laws preventing such one-year deals, so Leeds, Featherstone and Hunslet (the latter were both cleared by the investigation) have done nothing wrong in terms of the original complaint. The breach of operational rule C1:1:6 is a bit like what sometimes happens when a referee makes an obvious blunder. The match officials department announce that yes, the player was onside, but actually that’s not why he was penalised. The penalty was because he was wearing blue socks and a little-known rule states that’s not allowed in a Sky-televised game on a Thursday.

There may be sensible thinking behind a law banning a player signed at one club from training with another, but actually it’s something the RFL should be looking to encourage.

Rhinos are Challenge Cup holders and top of Super League, so they are obviously an example of good practice.

If someone from a part-time Championship clubs wants to train with Leeds or use the gym there, surely that’s only going to make him a better player and help raise standards in his competition?

Inside Rugby League is aware of at least one Championship player who trains occasionally with a local top-flight club, because he knows some of the players and coaches there and wants to keep active during that day.

There’s no harm in that and it has never been an issue, but presumably now operational rule C1:1:6 has been highlighted, he will have to stop.

Doubtless there are others in the same situation.

Of course, this isn’t about Championship players training with Super League clubs, it is more fall-out from the hugely controversial dual-registration system, introduced a few years ago as an alternative to reserve sides. If Leeds had an ‘A’ team, the six players – all too old for the under-19 academy – would be playing there, not for Featherstone or Hunslet.

Reserve teams were axed to save money, a move Rhinos backed strongly. It hasn’t worked; dual-registration has created a huge mess and a series of negative headlines and it’s time it was scrapped and ‘A’ teams were brought back.