Reserves league set to make long awaited return

Matt Sarsfield in action for Leigh Centurions reserves. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
Matt Sarsfield in action for Leigh Centurions reserves. Photo: Paul McCarthy Photography
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The reserve championship - sometimes known as the A team - could be about to return.

Hull FC have become the first Super League club to announce they will bring back a reserve team next season.

The move is sure to be followed by Warrington and Wigan, who have already expressed their desire for an under-23s competition, and looks set to consign the controversial dual-registration system to the scrapheap.

Super League clubs opted to form links with Championship clubs after vetoing plans formulated by the Rugby Football League three years ago for a competition to bridge the gap between under-19s rugby and Super League.

It was seen as cost-cutting at the time but the dual-registration system pleased neither set of clubs and left a host of players no longer eligible for under-19s rugby with no team to play for.

Hull FC, who are to merge their under-19s academy side with Hull KR from next year, insist an under-23s team is the best model and say at least eight clubs have expressed an interest in forming a professional league, with reigning champions St Helens and ambitious Leigh Centurions thought to be among them.

Club owner Adam Pearson said: “We have struggled to get the right playing foundations in place for our up-and-coming young professional players.

“A Hull FC under-23s reserve team in a competitive league would offer that platform for our academy players to play at a more senior level and gives them the chance to play regularly, at a good standard, with existing team mates and structures, which will develop their talents.

“Our ring-fenced players in the City of Hull Academy from next season will be available to play for the Hull FC under-23s with a clear allegiance to the club, ensuring they don’t lose their identity as Hull FC players as they progress through the ranks.”

The new competition is expected to provide opportunities for over-age players.

Hull coach Lee Radford said: “We are currently failing these young players by raising their expectations and aspirations before giving them anywhere near enough of a shot at the game to develop at first-grade.

“Our full-back Jamie Shaul is a great example of a player who came into our system late, found opportunities limited and just a couple of seasons ago couldn’t even get a game at lower championship level.

“We can’t make calls on players like that at such an early stage, particularly in other positions like the front row.”

Hull say that, if no central format can be agreed, they will play friendly fixtures against other interested clubs.