The Rugby Football League and Super League Europe have confirmed that a Reserve Grade competition will be relaunched in 2020.
The 11 English Betfred Super League clubs have approved a proposal for all Super League clubs, and clubs with Category 1 funded Academies outside Super League (Widnes Vikings and Bradford Bulls), to have a mandated reserve team.
Five further applications from clubs in Betfred Championship and League One have been received, with decisions to be made by the end of July.
The launch of Reserve Grade will be accompanied by a change in the regulations surrounding the Academy, which will now become an Under-18s competition rather than Under-19s, as at present. The dual registration and loan systems will remain unaffected.
Wigan Warriors Executive Director, Kris Radlinski, said: “We welcome the news that Super League Europe and the Rugby Football League will be relaunching the Reserve Grade competition in 2020. We have been extremely vocal in our support for a Reserve Grade as we believe that to create a pathway to maximise the potential of the players we are producing at Academy level is vital for the lifeblood of our game.
“In our opinion, we have always argued that the jump from Under-19s to Super League is enormous for a young player, only a select few can make it, but that’s not to say the one’s who at 18/19-year of age aren’t ready should be discarded and labelled a failure. It’s important that these young lads have a regular stage to play against older players and hone their craft as ultimately this will produce a higher calibre and number of Super League players which can only be beneficial to our game.
“When I was a kid coming through at Wigan Warriors, we had internationals playing in the reserve teams, we had 3,000 to 4,000 people at Central Park watching us, and that’s where you learn best as a youngster, from your older peers in a more pressurised environment. We’re extremely happy to see this rolled out from 2020 onwards.”
Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Interim Chief On-Field Officer, said: “We have listened to the views of stakeholders – clubs, coaches and players – before making this proposal.
“The majority view is that the game would benefit from the reintroduction of a Reserve Grade competition, primarily as a next step in the development of players between Academy and senior rugby, but also to provide regular rugby for players on the fringe of selection, returning from injury, and a platform for later developers.
“It was important in making what is a significant change that we also took into account the impact on the other professional competitions – Betfred Championship and League One – and also the community game.”
Robert Elstone, Super League’s CEO, said: “Super League is about superstars - players that get us on the edge of our seats, players that make our jaws drop, players that inspire us.
“Our success will depend on our ability to find, nurture and create the superstars of tomorrow. It’s why development pathways like this are so critical to the future success of the game.
“It is essential that we offer appropriate challenges to our young players on their journeys into Super League. A well-managed, resourced and competitive reserve grade will provide that.”
The Reserve Grade competition in 2020 will be administered by the RFL. The fixture schedule will be finalised during the winter but is expected to run on a home and away basis, with no play-offs.