Dual-registration leaving players in the lurch

First it was damaging the integrity of the Championship, now the revised dual-registration system is compromising the careers of young Super League players.

When the previous academy structure was scrapped, it was assumed that Super League clubs would be able to simply feed their players in to Championship matchday squads as and when they pleased.

But the reality is quite different. Some Championship clubs, and rightfully so, have dug their heels in and refused to take the players on offer.

It has left several players, too old to play in the new Under 19s set-up, and basically without anywhere to play their rugby week in, week out.

Take Ben Davies, a 24-year-old prop at Widnes. He has made 35 career appearances in Super League for the Vikings, Castleford and first club Wigan.

He hasn’t been able to force himself in to the Widnes first team this season, but with their partner club Workington not taking players unless they need them, Davies has been limited to just a solitary substitute appearance in 2013, for the Cumbrians in their 20-8 defeat by Halifax in February.

Due to injuries and suspensions, Davies was chucked in to the deep end on Saturday, playing in Widnes’ 46-14 defeat to Catalan against one of Super League’s most feared forward packs.

Davies acquitted himself well, despite being short of match fitness, but it points to a worrying trend.

The likelihood is that players like Davies will be lost to the game, fed up of simply sitting on the sidelines save for the odd game here and there, with no prospect of being able to impress their current club or otherwise in a reserve game.

At present, it seems that unless you’ve become a first team regular in Super League by the age of 20, there’s very little future for you as a full-time rugby league professional. These are players who won’t be earning massive amounts of money, and they may simply question whether it’s worth the hassle.

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There are off-field benefits in the partnership system, but on the field, it is wrecking prospects for young players. At the other end of the scale to Davies are youngsters at clubs like Hunslet, who may be booted out the Hawks team at any time, if a Super League quality player from Leeds becomes available.

The question now is, what happens next? The Super League clubs pushed for the introduction of this system, against the recommendation of the RFL, and it has now created more issues than it has provided answers.

Some sort of reserve structure needs to be re-introduced – whether that be by enabling over-age players to play in the Under 19s set-up, or otherwise.

Championship clubs cannot have players forced upon them, and players should not be left sat in the stands with nowhere to play.

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