Leeds aren’t daft.
They have completed the signing of Whitehaven prop Kyle Amor and with it comes a new partnership with the Cumbrian side which will no doubt give them first dibs on all the promising youngsters coming from one rugby league heartland that is starved of a top flight side.
It was only a matter of time really. Whitehaven seem to be producing top quality youngsters with ease, with Amor following in the footsteps of exciting young half-back Gregg McNally, who signed for Huddersfield at the end of last season.
So while Cumbria is denied a Super League place, at least they can rest assured their top youngsters have a pathway to the game’s elite.
But is that fair?
Essentially, have Whitehaven now become a feeder club? What reward will Cumbria, a traditional rugby league stronghold, now get from allowing its top players to simply move on to Leeds, or whoever else, when the time is right?
The dual registration system to be introduced next season also has its dangers. Amor could potentially turn out for Leeds on a Friday and then Haven on a Sunday. But this could well be exploited. What if Haven are struggling, and they can be bailed out of trouble by Brian McClennan, who just happens to send a few top quality players for one week only as Leeds have a week off. It’s certainly dangerous territory.
Regarding this, Amor said: “I am looking forward to testing myself in a full time environment at the Rhinos but I also know that with the proposed dual registration rules, I will still be able to gain first team experience back at Whitehaven next season, if I am not involved in the Leeds first team.”
And while that is good for Haven in a short term (if he does come back), what does it say for the future of the club and the sport?
However, Amor’s move is a massive compliment to Haven – particularly when you consider Leeds have probably the finest academy in the country, and there will be no shortage of promising forwards coming through that pathway – following in the footsteps of the likes of Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow, who have all won countless medals and become world class stars at Headingley.
Commenting on the agreement, Leeds Chief Executive Gary Hetherington said, “Cumbria and Whitehaven have a proud place in Rugby League history and the area has produced some of the greatest players to play the game. By forming a partnership with Whitehaven, we will give young players the opportunity to develop with their home town club as well as having a pathway to play in Super League and reach their full potential.
“Brian McClennan and Ged Stokes are fellow Kiwis and both are passionate about player development and youth rugby. Barrie McDermott’s role as Head of Youth Performance is to attract and nurture young talent which this season has seen former Barrow junior Brad Singleton and Whitehaven youngster Jared Stewart move to Headingley Carnegie.
“The Board of Directors at Whitehaven have been extremely forward thinking in all their dealings with us and they have ambitions to build a sustainable future for their club. We will also provide support off the field as well with our own business expertise which can only strengthen the bond between the two clubs,” added Hetherington.
But would it not be easier for a Super League franchise to be based out of Cumbria?
It seems like we’ve been having this debate for years now, with Whitehaven and Workington seemingly never going to come to an agreement in terms of a merger, or combined club.
Workington are hardly knocking down doors at the moment, and there is the distinct possibility that they may well finish bottom of the entire professional set-up after a dismal campaign under coach Dave Rotherham.
So instead of watching home-grown youngsters turn out for their club, Cumbrians face the prospect of enjoying them for one or two years tops in the National Leagues, before watching them trying to make the grade at Leeds – hardly worse-off for youngsters themselves.
It makes you wonder what could be done if the RFL could be bothered to push Cumbria as a viable option – like they have done with Celtic Crusaders.
What will it take for a Cumbrian team to make an impact in SL? Whitehaven’s ground is hardly that much worse than Celtic, and their fan base would certainly increase with top flight rugby (I’m told that more than 5000 people are registered with the Haven lottery, which at least suggests they have a presence in the area).
The local people would undoubtedly get excited about the prospect of seeing Amor and McNally return to Cumbria for a stint in Super League with them, but it’s just a case of making it possible.
Or is that it. Is Whitehaven, and Cumbria, merely now a feeder club to the big boys?
We’ve been fighting off the talks of mergers and feeder clubs for years now, but they appear to be rearing their nasty heads once again. With SL a closed-shop and the continuing focus on the development of clubs outside of the traditional heartlands, there is a danger that the heart and lifeblood of the greatest game will be cast aside and will merely be a sideshow to the chosen ones.
Let’s not let that happen, eh?