Leeds Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield supports return of reserve-grade rugby
The return of reserve grade rugby has been welcomed by Leeds Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield.
All English-based Super League clubs, plus Bradford Bulls and Widnes Vikings who have Category One funded academies, will be mandated to run a reserve side from 2020.
The proposal – from the Rugby Football League and Super League – was approved by the 11 English Super League clubs and five further applications have been submitted from clubs in Betfred Championship and League One.
A decision on those is due to be made by the end of this month.
The under-19s academy competition will become under-18s, but dual registration and loan systems are unaffected.
Sinfield described a reserve grade competition as “vitally important to our game”.
He said: “We have missed it and I think we have missed a trick with the development of our young players by not having the competition for a number of years now.
“Clubs were forced to make a decision on academy players at under-19 level which is unfair on both the player and those people who have worked so hard to develop that player from scholarship level and before that in their community clubs.
“I am delighted the development pathway has been extended.”
Sinfield added: “I came through the academy when we had a reserve team and it was a great competition for young players to develop alongside and against senior players.
“The older guys were looking to pick up their form and regain a first-team place whilst the young players were learning their trade and trying to show the coaching staff what they could do.
“Eight of last year’s victorious England Academy side that defeated the Australian Schoolboys are in our academy system and the reserve grade will be a vital tool in their development.
“We will also have the opportunity to use dual registration and loan periods because each player is an individual and needs different levels of development.”
New reserve teams will also allow first-team players an opportunity to regain match fitness after injury.
Sinfield recalled: “This year Jamie Jones-Buchanan celebrates his 20th season at Leeds and he has achieved so much for his club and country over two successful decades.
“But I remember when he started out and struggled with injuries. He needed time to recover and then the opportunity to show what he could do in the reserve team.
“We will never know how many players like Jamie we might have missed out on in the past few years, but the return of the reserve grade ensures that pathway is now back in place.
“At a time when nearly all sports have decreasing levels of participation, it is vital that we give our own talent the best possible opportunity to shine.”