SUPER LEAGUE champions Leeds Rhinos’ fringe players will be offered on dual-registration to Championship side Featherstone Rovers in 2016.
The treble winners had a dual-registration agreement with Hunslet Hawks, but will join forces with Featherstone instead next season after their city neighbours were relegated to Championship One.
The dual-registration system allows players to move from a top-flight club to one in the lower divisions at short notice and without having to serve a full one-month loan period.
Jimmy Keinhorst and Josh Walters, who combined for Leeds’s match-winning try in October’s Grand Final triumph over Wigan Warriors, both spent time at Hunslet in 2015, but the club’s chief executive Gary Hetherington said Rhinos want their youngsters to play at a higher standard than the third tier.
“Our priority with all our players is their personal development, particularly players in squad numbers 21-25,” said Hetherington.
“The likes of Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jordan Lilley and Josh Walters are still learning and clearly we want them to be playing at the highest possible level.
“If they are not playing Super League for Leeds Rhinos, the Championship provides an excellent environment for players to continue to develop and, at the same time, they provide excellent service to the club they are playing for.”
He added: “Examples are Jimmy Keinhorst, Josh Walters and Rob Mulhern last year.
“The team they were playing for didn’t win many games, but they were playing in a tough, competitive competition.
“They were put under pressure, playing in front of crowds in games with real meaning to them.
“The standard of the Championship is getting better, teams are getting better prepared and coached and it is an excellent environment for players to continue their progress.”
Hetherington said Hunslet will continue to have access to Leeds’s training, medical and coaching facilities and could still draw on players from the Super League club’s academy ranks.
He insisted: “Our support for Hunslet continues in the same way it has for the last several years.
“The only change is our top 25 players will be dual-registered with Featherstone.
“Featherstone will have a similar arrangement so their players are made available to Hunslet on a dual-registration basis.”
Featherstone have offered Leeds the use of their indoor training facilities at Post Office Road after Rhinos’ Kirkstall base was badly damaged in the Boxing Day flood.
Meanwhile, Castleford Tigers’ coach Daryl Powell expects a big season from former London Broncos forward Mike McMeeken.
The 21-year-old scored two tries in Castleford’s 42-28 win over Featherstone which kicked off their pre-season campaign.
Powell said: “He is turning into a good player.
“His pass for Ben Crooks’s try (against Featherstone) was sublime and he is turning into an all-round back-rower.
“He is skilful and he is a big man as well. His line running is improving all the time, as he showed with his try in the second half.
“He is really growing as an all-round athlete.”