Phil Clarke says that is all well and good developing our youngsters but they need to play more.
Last Updated: 16/08/09 3:33pm
As a child of the 70's I grew up with a television programme called Opportunity Knocks.
It was a British Talent show which originally started on radio and moved to TV in the mid 1950's. Those of you old enough to remember the 80's and 90's might recall seeing Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson hosting the show in an attempt to discover the next generation of entertainers.
The modern equivalents are Britain's Got Talent, Pop Idol, X-factor and the shows where they attempt to find a new lead performer for a West End musical. Whatever they are called, they centre on giving somebody a chance to show their skills.
Most of the rugby clubs in this country employ staff and spend time and money in attempting to discover and develop their next star performers, or so they claim. Some do it much better than others.
If we look at a typical Super League club, we'll see that they receive £1.2 million per year from the central distribution of funds. Ten per cent of this (£120,000) is supposed to be spent on junior player development. In theory a club should employ a Head of Youth, a Player Performance Manager and somebody with expertise, qualifications and the personality to develop the strength and conditioning of young players at the club.
Most clubs start to have some influence on their players when they are about 14 years old, and they enter a scholarship programme with a club. A recent revision of the rules means that each club can sign 12 players in the 14-year age group and 24 in the 15s and 16s. Add to this about 20 players at the club who are between 17-20 years old and its easy to see each club with about 80 to 90 players in their youth system. Let's multiply that by 13 and find that in theory, there are about 1100 young players under the watchful eye of the Super League clubs.
Now the RFL is trying to encourage the clubs, after a decade or two of increasing overseas players, to see more of these young players given a chance to play at the highest level. Their rules for next season state that seven out of a 25-man squad need to be club trained, i.e. been with the club for three years or more.
However, this is, as was stated by the St Helens Chairman recently, far too low, and does nothing to create a paradigm shift in the sport. We need to increase that number to at least ten. It is vitally important that more British players are given some first team experience. As it stands, jerseys 18 to 25 can be given to club trained youngsters who are rarely playing and the club will still be meeting the criteria set down.
I am aware, respectful of and impressed by much of the coaching that goes into young players. Wigan for example, are so advanced that they film the scholarship training sessions and provide instantaneous feedback via the footage on a giant screen inside their training base. It's more advanced than many first teams. However, my point is this: they need an OPPORTUNITY to play.
Many young players are only ever given that chance because of an injury to a more senior player. St Helens and Leeds are perhaps the exception over the last few years.
At the end of the season we'll look back to see if there have been more young British players given a first team game now that relegation is no longer an annual threat to clubs.
I'm quite an impatient person, but I would like to see the percentage of overseas players in Super League dropping much more quickly than the current system is designed to do.
It's no good spending our efforts on improving the coaching and development of young players if we don't find a way of giving them some first team action. Opportunity needs to knock on the door of these young players, and it is their responsibility to be ready.