Hull FC’s teenagers prove to be in class of their own

IT IS a winning combination which, if thought up previously, could have made so many rugby-obsessed youngsters reconsider staying in education.

Chris Johnson, sport and fitness lecturer with Hull FC Academy Players at Bishop Burton College near Beverley. (TJ1001/89a). (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Lessons in the morning followed each day with the promise of a full afternoon being trained in the sport they love? Sounds ideal.

Hull FC have led the way through a pioneering partnership with Bishop Burton College, the Super League club sending their 
Under-19s players to both study and train at the college’s state-of-the-art facility near Beverley.

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The college facilitates the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE), giving the Airlie Birds’ youngsters a range of courses to delve into, before a set amount of hours on the training pitch with Hull FC coach Danny Wilson.

It increases the contact time these aspiring juniors spend in a professional environment and prepares them for life as Super League players while also offering a BTEC qualification.

Five junior players attended last year and this time around that number has more than quadrupled as the East Yorkshire club’s teenage talents utilise the link.

Moreover, given the clear success of the course – which has drawn admiration from the Rugby Football League – the college has opened up a similar venture itself, unveiling its own rugby league academy.

But it is the union with Hull FC that has proved the most eye-catching development as Bishop Burton College’s director of sport James Earl explained.

“A lot of partnerships are often simply agreements or sponsorship links,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “But ours is a full partnership where both parties actually benefit.

“They (Hull FC) have similar goals to us and they have come from facilities they wouldn’t class fit for developing young players.

“They have those now here at our college and it’s helped them develop their junior ranks, going from having no full-time Academy players to five last year and now 22.

“They can now progress them through a full-time Academy.

“Hull have really bought into it and have been very holistic in their view about how they want the partnership to work.”

The sport’s governing body have been impressed by the set-up and Hull’s approach could soon be mirrored by plenty of other Super League clubs.

Earl said: “Jon Roberts (the RFL’s director of performance and coaching) has sat down on numerous occasions with Hull to see ways in which other clubs can access full-time training environments like ours.

“They do see us as a blueprint maybe for others.

“Elsewhere, Academy players at part-time level have to go somewhere else (for training and education).

“But we wanted to do it under one roof with an education programme that is right for the players for what they need but also five or six days a week.

“Also, this system means they can concentrate on their rugby and learning rather than going off to be a plumber or welder and then training part-time.

“That doesn’t happen in rugby union or football so why should rugby league suffer?

“Obviously, not every Academy player will make it to Super League but if they don’t they’ve got a qualification.”

After sacking Australian head coach Peter Gentle last September, Hull FC owner Adam Pearson outlined his plans to redeliver the club back to the city’s people.

He earmarked more emphasis on nurturing their own players through the system to first-team level and relying less on expensive overseas recruits.

The appointment of Hull-born Lee Radford – who tutored many of the club’s youngsters in his previous role as Under-19s coach – as Gentle’s replacement is intended to help bring back pride in the Black and White shirt.

“Adam (Pearson) and Lee (Radford) have said how they want to bring more Hull lads through and, for us as a college, it’s great to see Andy Last progress through to become Lee’s assistant too,” said Earl.

“I had the pleasure of sharing an office with Andy (Hull’s former Head of Youth) at the academy and he understands the college and the work we’re trying to do here. We’ve got people who want to get through to that first team and we genuinely believe we’ll give them the best opportunity to do that.”

The college’s own course has been well-received and offers the chance for aspiring amateur players who have previously missed the cut to perhaps catch the eye of Hull’s staff.

For school-leavers aged 16 to 18, they, too, receive professional coaching from the Super League club.

“The college is now going to be part of all Hull Academy’s full-time studies and we also recognise in rugby league that there are a lot of late developers,” added Earl.

“We’re developing our own rugby league academy – which will have its own team – which we’re hoping will almost act as a second string for Hull’s.

“But the RFL is also looking to set up a College Super League and hopefully this model can appear at other Super League clubs and expand the talent pathway, picking up any late developers and keeping people in the game.

“Hopefully that will be on pro contracts but, if not, we can return them to the community game which will receive its own boost.

“It’s still early conversations but it’s something ourselves and the RFL want to push through as soon as possible.”

The facilities at Bishop Burton College are certainly impressive.

They include a floodlit 4G artificial pitch, full-size grass pitches, sports hall, fitness suite and physiotherapy centre which have previously been used by the likes of Hull City and Leicester Tigers.

Radford said: “The facilities are second to none. From a head coach point of view, it’s great these young kids are signing on for the club and not only getting tuition on the rugby field but also a qualification that could pay dividends later down the line.

“It is a bit of an insurance to fall back on as not all Under-19s who come through the system will become Super League players.

“When I first started at Hull as a kid the club did still put youngsters on apprenticeships.

“You actually went full-time on a contract straight from school but went out to work.

“I was a car sprayer. And not a very good one. I got an NVQ and it did benefit me as I realised, when the opportunity came to be a full-time player, that I didn’t want to be a paint sprayer.”

Radford, 34, took a more traditional route into rugby league but a whole new batch of potential Super League players are certainly taking a new path.