Phil Clarke wonders if going back to a 'part-time' scenario would benefit both rugby league and the players
Phil Clarke wonders if rugby league standards would necessarily drop if players went 'part-time'.
Last Updated: 30/04/13 3:34pm
Wigan won most of the trophies and dominated all of the headlines. Many people have said it was because they were the first team to go 'full time'. Their players had the luxury of training during the day whilst most of their peers had to get by with evening sessions after a day at 'real work'. It wasn't long though before Leeds, St Helens and others had moved down this path and by the mid-90s every team trained as full-time professionals.
For some time now I've wondered whether this is the best thing for the sport or the individual player. Unlike football the average earnings of rugby league players will not provide them with enough money to live off and most of them hit the wall of panic as they approach retirement. I'm not sure that the clubs can even afford to do this, it seems as though most of them are losing money. Is a return to a 'part-time' scenario the best for both parties? Would the standard necessarily drop?
Well, before you say that it can't be done in modern-day professional rugby, let me point out what has recently been achieved by a rugby player in the other code. Jamie Roberts is a Welsh rugby union player who has been an international player for over five years. He was good enough to be selected for the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2009 and has just been selected to go to Australia as a Lion in June; he is respected throughout the world as one of the best players in his position.
Roberts combined his progress as a rugby player with his studies at Cardiff University where it has taken him eight years of study, hard work, revision and dedication to become qualified as a Medical Doctor. As someone who managed to combine a Sports Science degree from Liverpool University (much, much easier than a degree in medicine I know), I can appreciate just how tough it must have been for Jamie at times. But it was interesting to read that he's felt that the study also helped his rugby career. Not only has it provided a very important balance that any sportsman or woman needs, it has also helped him in the problem solving of attack and defence in elite rugby union.
He's not the only rugby player proving that this is possible. Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield have also used their spare time effectively to earn degrees and are currently in the process of studying for their Masters Degree. If the best players are able to do it then why aren't the rest? The fitness and skill level of Peacock and Sinfield haven't been affected by their time spent studying.
I appreciate that not every player wants to study in their spare time. Some are already ahead of me here and working for themselves or other small companies on a part-time basis. They tend to be the smart ones who can look ten years into the future and see what life might be like for them and their families.
In the early 90s, Andy Farrell served an apprenticeship as a joiner at the same time as he progressed from Wigan's 'A' team into their first team. He would turn up at the club and train before he went to work, then return in the early evening to do some more. It was very tough for him, I know; I saw what he had to go through, but it didn't stop him becoming one of the best players in this country. If you asked him now, he might say that it gave him the mental toughness to be a success.
It's roughly 20 years since the game went 'full time' (I hate the saying, but you know what I mean). Is it time for a re-think?