Nonsense to think fewer academies will help us defeat the Aussies - Dave Craven

At the age of 42, I am contemplating a playing return with Goole Vikings.

World class: Wigan and England star  John Bateman was a produce of the Bradford Bulls academy. Picture by Ed Sykes/
World class: Wigan and England star John Bateman was a produce of the Bradford Bulls academy. Picture by Ed Sykes/

At the age of 42, I am contemplating a playing return with Goole Vikings.

A large emphasis has to be placed on the word ‘contemplating’.

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It currently takes me three days to recover from village five-a-side football so the whole idea of trying to get a game of rugby league against blokes half my age might soon get conveniently forgotten.

However, I do still get that urge to have a run around again. If I allow myself time to think about the prospect, I do realise I miss playing rugby league. Maybe it’s because I was a late starter to the game so I feel I’m owed a little longer. Football was king for me when I was a kid. I didn’t start rugby until 11 when I began high school in Featherstone.

Even then it was rugby union. Yes, rugby union in Featherstone. Don’t ask me how that happened.

Aside from a very brief spell with Kippax at around 12 (turned out I couldn’t fit that, football and school rugby in every weekend), I did not properly start playing rugby league until I ended up at Sheffield University at 18.

And then it was all in. I can’t remember how it happened but I ended up having a few games with Hunslet Hawks academy.

Rising star Castleford Tigers' Jacob Trueman (left) was produced by Bradford before moving to Cas - who have also lost their academy. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Going up to South Leeds Stadium and training with some great players was brilliant for my development, especially given I was still so fresh to the game.

David Plange and the incomparable St John Ellis – former Great Britain internationals and such characters – were leading the first team at the time and there was lots of interaction between the academy and senior side. There were plenty of lads from the Hunslet area in that junior side and plenty went on to play first-team.

One – Jamie Thackray – played for Great Britain. You could sense how much it meant to represent the club.

While still playing for uni, I also joined my local National Conference club Oulton Raiders. University. Academy. Community. Options aplenty.

Obviously, things change. Unfortunately, Hunslet don’t have an academy side any longer but they are a League 1 club.

You cannot imagine kids in Castleford, east Hull and Bradford not having that same chance to aspire to play for their hometown club.

Personally, I think it’s simply not right that Castleford Tigers, Hull KR and Bradford Bulls will not have an elite academy licence after this year. I fully understand the furore the RFL and Super League (yes, Super League as well) decision has caused. If a club is willing to run and invest in an academy – as all three are – they should be able to do so and in the same division. Forget ‘elite’ status. It is not needed.

Yet, as those three clubs seek to get the decision reversed, my worry is that it simply won’t be possible. Why? Because I fear all the clubs had essentially agreed to the process and its various stipulations beforehand and – though surprised by the final outcome – there will be no wriggle room to have it changed.

To avoid all of this, perhaps the RFL should have opted for regional academies with no club affiliations but, of course, that would have needed greater central funding which is simply not available.

One thing I am sure of is reducing the number of elite academies to 10 will not – as the RFL hopes – help us beat the Aussies. That makes no sense whatsoever. A bit like my playing comeback...

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