Eight clubs from the Betfred Super League, and two from the Betfred Championship, have been awarded Elite Academy Licences for 2022-27, having demonstrated that they achieve the elite standards required by the process.
The licensing process had been delayed since 2019, partly as a result of the disruption caused by Covid-19. Over recent months an expert panel convened by the RFL and Super League Europe had considered 15 applications.
Key decisions that were agreed by the clubs before the process began were for the licence term to be extended to six years, because of the long-term nature of player development, and for the importance of the Community Game to be factored into deliberations.
That led to an agreement that a maximum of 12 licences should be awarded – up to nine in “Core Affinity Areas”, up to two in “Emerging Affinity Areas”, and up to one in France.
The rationale for this was as follows:
1. To ensure that Academies are operated sensitively and proportionately to the continuing good health of the Community Game;
2. That the number of players selected for Academies is proportionate to the number of players within the Community Game at the relevant age and that the players selected have a genuine opportunity of progressing into the Super League and National teams;
3. That the talent pool is extended beyond the traditional heartland of the sport.
The panel was chaired by Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE. The RFL representation was led by Dave Rotheram (Chief On-Field Officer), also including Marc Lovering (Director of Participation and Development), Samantha Allen (Head of Professional Game Delivery) and Paul Medley (National Player Progression Manager).
The panel also included Duncan Truswell, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Performance and Talent who shared a wealth of expertise from other sports.
The 10 clubs awarded elite Academy Licences for 2022-27 are: Catalans Dragons, Huddersfield Giants, Hull FC, Leeds Rhinos, London Broncos, Newcastle Thunder, St Helens, Wakefield Trinity, Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors.
Clubs whose applications were unsuccessful have been provided with detailed feedback on areas for improvement, and advised that they will be able to reapply in 2024.
These clubs will be able to operate Development Academies which are run in conjunction with Further Education Institutions, and play in the highly competitive Colleges competition. This does not cause the same level of disruption to the community game, with matches played over the winter/spring season. Super League clubs will be required to run Reserves when that competition returns in 2022, and other clubs will have the option of applying to do so
The 2021 Academy season, which began in a revised format last weekend following delays enforced by Covid-19, will continue as scheduled, with this announcement timed to provide certainty for players and clubs heading into 2022.
Dean Andrew OBE: “We thank all clubs for their applications, and the work that went into them. This has been a robust and rigorous process, with an emphasis on quality and realism. We did not work to award a set number of licences, but to ensure those licences awarded were to truly Elite Academies, and to bear in mind the importance of protecting the Community Game.”
Duncan Truswell: “It was a real privilege to get a more intimate understanding of the elite player development programmes being delivered within the applicant clubs.
“Many of the clubs have a great track record of consistently developing senior elite players for England and yet their commitment to iterate and develop their programmes in order to continue to optimally attract, retain and progress players really shone through.
“It was a competitive process and there were inevitably some difficult choices to be made, however, as one of the two independent panel members reviewing the submissions and overseeing the process, I was impressed by its robustness and rigour. All of the applicants should be commended for the effort that they put into the process and their commitment to the development of players and the game.”