Castleford Tigers fear losing kids as clubs seek Academy probe

CASTLEFORD Tigers head of youth Darren Higgins says tearful players are wanting to quit rugby league completely after the controversial elite academy row.

Tom Briscoe scores in Leeds Rhinos' 60-6 win over Castleford Tigers in Super League on Friday night. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Along with Hull KR and Bradford Bulls, the Super League club has been told they will not have one of the six-year licences for 2022-27, a decision that has caused uproar in the sport.

Just 10 of a possible 12 licences were awarded with the RFL arguing a fall in participation levels means there is not enough quality to go around and the reduction will aid the community game.

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MPs Yvette Cooper (Castleford and Pontefract), Judith Cummins (Bradford South) and Karl Turner (East Hull) have all backed their clubs and sought explanations with Turner also asking for an urgent, independent review.

A week on from the announcement, RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer has refused to budge on the decision which was made by a panel convened by the governing body and Super League.

But Higgins – whose club have launched a formal challenge of the decision – told The Yorkshire Post: “Firstly, the way it has been done is extremely disappointing.

“I don’t think enough consideration has been given to those who it affects, especially young players.

“A week into the season after Covid (cancelled) last year, we had less than an hour to prepare anything or give them a heads up.

Sam Hall who came through the Castleford academy.

“We purposely protected them from it all when the process started as it creates doubt and anxiety. We shielded them from that.

“So, to be given an hour’s notice as was the case, was poor. We had lads going in and out of GCSE exams and to treat our own as a sport like that is really poor form.

“I’ve had players crying and saying they’re going to pack in altogether. For me, regardless of how it affects us, I just don’t agree with needing to cut academies because there’s less participation.

“We and every other club and the governing body need to do more to grow the game. But it’s absolutely flawed thinking to think this will help participation and clubs in Castleford.”

RFL's Ralph Rimmer. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Clubs who missed out will be able to run development academies to play in a colleges competition but that is far from ideal.

And Higgins added: “Young players are less likely to engage with the game now in areas such as Castleford. In theory, all the better players and young potential will find themselves in these so-called ‘elite’ environments.

“But, for example, we’ve got a player in Sam Hall who did not have a written offer from any other club and yet he’s come through our academy and played first-team for us now. He’d have been even less likely to find himself a club in this new situation.

“Pro’ clubs are constantly reminded we are a late specialisation sport, we should look to work with greater numbers for as long as possible and provide the best possible environments. What happened last week totally goes against that in my opinion.

“After Covid and the Sky deal being massively reduced, surely every club will be far more reliant on youth and giving less opportunities to overseas players on big money? In a salary cap sport, that becomes an unlevel playing field.”

Eight Super League clubs – Catalans Dragons, Huddersfield, Hull FC, Leeds, St Helens, Wakefield, Warrington and Wigan – plus London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder from the Championship were awarded licences.

Castleford’s academy continued their winning start to the season when defeating Leeds on Thursday night having opened with a victory at Huddersfield.

When asked if he stands by the decision, Rimmer said: “We do because of the quality of the process adhered to.

“We’re disappointed at some of the reaction to it but we’re a passionate game and for the most part we benefit from that passion. The RFL never acts in isolation or without consultation. This has been a three-year process. Sport Resolutions is the next port of call for those not satisfied.”

Hull KR confirmed yesterday they have started their appeal, lodging proceedings with Sport Resolutions and expecting an outcome by the middle of June.

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