Players, coaches, administrators and fans across the sport were left bewildered, angry and saddened by the news as clubs lost their academy status.
Although agreed by all parties beforehand that a maximum of 12 licences would be awarded following the process – delayed since 2019, partly as a result of Covid-19 disruption – the governing body eventually only handed over ten.
Huddersfield Giants, Hull FC, Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity successfully negotiated the process along with fellow Super League clubs Catalans Dragons, St Helens, Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors plus Championship outfits London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder.
But Hull KR, Castleford and Bradford all lost theirs and Leigh Centurions and Salford Red Devils were unsuccessful in their bid to win one.
Rovers made a one sentence statement on their website saying they would “take time to reflect on the matter and make no comment at this time” but Championship Bradford were less reticent.
They said: “Bradford Bulls are incredibly shocked, disappointed and perplexed by this morning’s decision not to grant the club an Elite Academy Licence.
“We are struggling to understand any RFL strategy that apparently prevents young Bradford players playing for Bradford.
“The decision, if left to stand, is immensely damaging to the sport, the city and the welfare of 90 plus young players and staff.
“The club has not received any detailed feedback at this stage, so will be reserving our position until that is received, and we have a better understanding as to why the RFL believe an extremely productive line of young talent can be laid to waste.”
Similarly, “devastated” Castleford were equally taken aback by the news which has left huge question marks about the future development of their young players.
There was a time, in the days of Super League licencing, when clubs needed to point towards a thriving junior set-up to secure their place among the elite.
Yet now, it appears, clubs with established and willing academies are seeing their programmes cut.
A panel convened by the RFL and Super League Europe had considered 15 applications.
Key decisions agreed by clubs before the process began were for the licence term to be extended to six years and, that of the maximum dozen licences, up to nine should be in “Core Affinity Areas”, no more than two in “Emerging Affinity Areas”, and a maximum of one in France. This, the RFL says, was to ensure that Academies are operated sensitively and proportionately to the continuing good health of the Community Game; the number of players selected for Academies is proportionate to the number of players within the Community Game at the relevant age and players selected have a genuine chance of progressing into Super League and National teams; that the talent pool is extended beyond the sport’s traditional heartland.
Castleford say the RFL has cited a large number of clubs in a small geographical location as one reason why they were turned down along with being bottom of the league for producing first-team players since 2014.
However, the club argue that process has not taken into account the appearances of long-standing home-grown Academy talent such as England internationals Michael Shenton, Adam Milner and Oli Holmes as well as Nathan Massey, James Clare, Greg Eden and Liam Watts.
Castleford coach Daryl Powell called the decision a “mistake” and “short-sighted.”
“We had a lean spell but there are some high-quality players in our academy now so it is disappointing,” he said. “The RFL have been after this for a while and in some ways you can understand it.
“But I think the player pathway is broken anyway. There are no reserves and the pathway needs fixing. I just don’t think this is the way – by getting rid of academies.
“It should be about putting more emphasis and focus on academies to develop young players. There is the educational pathway which is there now and the college of rugby at the club, so that’s potentially the way that Castleford will go.”
Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE, who chaired the panel, said: “This has been a robust and rigorous process, with an emphasis on quality and realism.
We did not work to award a set number of licences, but to ensure those licences awarded were to truly Elite Academies, and to bear in mind the importance of protecting the Community Game.”
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