Dave Craven: University’s inclusion suggests that lessons have been learned

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AT FIRST glance, news that a university side will take part in the third tier of professional rugby league seems as foolhardy as getting Super League sponsored by some barely visible trucks.

Students, after all, traditionally have very little commitment to anything apart from making sure they get their regular spot in the union bar and drink copious amounts of alcohol.

A bit of a sweeping statement, granted, as, given the amount of fees they have to fork out nowadays, they admittedly must also make sure they do some graft to get that degree.

But you get my drift – university life is supposed to be carefree, wild and the best days of your life so just how does that sit with life as a semi-professional RL player?

University of Gloucestershire All Golds are the third of four new teams that will join Championship One next season – if they can drag players out of the aforementioned bar and get them up in time to trek to Gateshead on a Sunday morning.

That would be just one of many problematic issues. University of Gloucestershire director of sport Andy Pitchford described it as an “ambitious” project and he is not wrong. However, it is clearly not as simplistic as I make out and, delving a little deeper, it seems the Rugby Football League have not suffered another aberration.

The new outfit – despite its slightly misleading name suggesting otherwise – will not solely consist of players extracted from the university’s roll call.

It will be based at the university (which has excellent sports science facilities) in Cheltenham and be run by it but, like fellow newcomers Hemel Stags and Northampton, they will be seeking players from rugby union, current Championship players and others from amateur clubs as well as their own register.

Realistically, as the new-look division continues to take shape for 2013, they will have every chance of being competitive. The RFL’s ideal is to see it made up largely of expansionist clubs and that seems set to materialise.

Their biggest fear would have been perennial strugglers London Skolars, South Wales Crusaders, Gateshead and North Wales Crusaders among the four clubs promoted leaving big names such as Barrow, Doncaster and Oldham to run amok among the raw novices in 2013, serving up some cruelly lop-sided scorelines.

However, that quartet have so far, between them, picked up only four wins from 24 fixtures so they are going nowhere.

It will be intriguing to see if any players from the heartlands do fancy relocating in the South West where more illustrious peers such as Lesley Vainikolo and Shontayne Hape have ventured in high-profile moves to union.

Leeds Rhinos have been developing rugby league in that region and will forge links with the university club sharing good practices, as well as coaching and player education, while clearly seeking to get first approach if any potential star emerges.

The university game has, undoubtedly, unearthed some real gems in the past with ex-Wigan, Newcastle Knights and Great Britain winger Brian Carney most famously getting his chance at Gateshead Thunder after impressing with Ireland Students.

Paul Smith, who played with Huddersfield Giants at Wembley, emerged through Salford University while Alex Walmsley looks set for Super League after being discovered by Batley Bulldogs playing for Leeds Met.

The University of Gloucestershire has already developed a significant presence in more than 20 schools and runs three different junior teams, which is considerably more than plenty of Championship clubs.

I am a staunch believer the RFL’s previous expansion plans concerning Super League have been flawed.

Trying to instantly create an elite side – let alone club – in somewhere like Wrexham was always doomed to fail.

But if they truly want to expand the sport, planting the seeds at this lower level – like they are in Cheltenham – while allowing it to grow organically may see some roots take hold and develop.