The Kingstone Press Cider National Conference League undertake their Annual General Meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, when one of the burning questions will be whether they adopt “duel registration” with Championship clubs.
Certainly the arguments for and against seem equally powerful and although the pro-duel-reg vote won the day 26-20 when the clubs were asked for an email vote a month ago, whether there will be enough of a further swing with the “yes” vote to provide the necessary two-thirds majority to carry the vote through remains to be seen.
It is an argument that divides the coaching fraternity as well as the administrators and although the NCL Management Committee have negotiated with the RFL and Championship clubs for almost two years to bring a potential way forward to the table that they feel will work, the doubters are still in full voice.
In essence the proposal on the table is for players who do not feature in their Championship club’s plans for the immediate future, are given the opportunity to return to their former amateur club as a duel-registered player for the forthcoming 2016 NCL season.
The numbers that can be signed by any one amateur club is restricted to just six players, and at any one time, only three of those can play in the amateur club’s NCL team on any one day.
Championship players’ must return to their amateur club of origin. However if that club’s dial-reg quota is already full, that player may go to another club who has room on its quota. Administration is through the NCL Administrator and his permissions are final.
The decision to select what are essentially a club’s former players is entirely up to the coach of the amateur club. The Championship coach may have a good working relationship with his amateur counterpart, but the decision to play a player in the NCL is solely between that player and his amateur club coach.
There will be two windows of opportunity during which amateur clubs can sign their dual-reg players.
The first is at the start of the season, and the second is at the midway point. This is to facilitate injury, or the revival in fortunes of the championship player or indeed his loss of form or commitment to his amateur club.
The decision to retain or exchange him is at the discretion of the amateur club, with the player and his Championship club in agreement. In all cases it is a three way decision.
Of course there will be teething problems as the NCL, the players, the Championship clubs and the NCL administrator keep on top of all this, but with each club being permitted a maximum of six dual-reg players and there being 48 clubs, then almost 300 players could be given the opportunity to play rugby league with their former team mates at their amateur club.
These players are not going to be your front liners, the players who will constantly be in the Championship first team or even on the fringe of it, playing games every other week.
These players will be those who signed for a pittance or just match terms, and who are trying to grab the dream but with no real opportunity ever to do that.
Arguments against dual registration will point to the fact that the players took their ‘King’s Shilling’ and therefore must stay where they are.
But surely the amateur game is there to provide good quality players with the opportunity to try for a place in the professional ranks.
Yes, those players may never make it, but they are trying to back themselves, and in reality they are most often the best players at their amateur clubs until they make the switch.
Surely a return to their former teammates should be welcomed as it is in most other sports.
A free gangway with rugby union was a long and hard fought battle by the amateur and professional rugby league, yet here we have a similar sort of situation where some players are being prevented from playing their chosen sport – arguably being discriminated against – even though they are prepared to do so without payment for playing.
Another argument is that if players are brought in for games from Championship clubs, those who are displaced at the amateur clubs will walk away from the game.
But again it can be argued that the influx of the duel reg players is only serving to re-strengthen a squad where all too often injures or summer holidays leaves that amateur club somewhat short of numbers.
Naturally we should examine the reason why the players with the Championship clubs are not getting game time, and that is a matter of cost in cash strapped sport playing in financially austere times.
The Championship clubs cannot afford Reserve rugby and need somewhere for their squad players to play – the NCL could provide that if duel-registration was permitted.
The alternative could be for the Championship clubs to decide to fund a Reserve League and naturally that would result in even more NCL players being tempted to try their luck as a professional who is not paid very much – if anything at all – but who is still chasing the dream.
Some clubs argue that there will be a skewing of the NCL competition as those clubs who produce players for the Championship will have more coming back and therefore be stronger. But the reality is that these returning players would only be returning to their own amateur club that had nurtured and developed them anyway.
What happens at present is those amateur clubs with good development policies are constantly having their next batch of youth players snatched away from them.
Generally at all amateur clubs, only a couple of those may make the grade but the others don’t and sadly are mainly lost to the game.
Perhaps that is loss of face or just disillusionment. But a duel-reg system could retain those links and give them that pathway back to their amateur club.
Coaches from the amateur clubs will have a big part to play in any dual-reg success as it would be their management of all the players and the way they played them that would make the proposal a success or failure.
Some thirty years ago duel-registered or “Permit” players as they were then known were allowed in the North West Counties League, and it was the formation of the National Conference League that closed that option to their member clubs to try and develop less of an ageing professional sport profile in favour of a younger demographic.
Now the young players are the ones that are being kept without a game, and that cannot be good for the sport or its future.
The discussions have been long and at times difficult as the Championship and the NCL have sought to do the best for their membership whilst also trying to provide something in the best interest of the sport.
There have been suggestions that a return to trialist forms and a restriction on the number of trialist games an amateur player can play before he must be offered a contract would be a simpler method.
It has merits but that would not be managed by the NCL, and therefore could not be managed to protect the NCL clubs or their players and it is unlikely to provide the level of competition that the Championship club wants for its players when outside of the NCL environment.
But being an amateur or a professional should no longer matter. Just being a rugby league player should be what everyone is intent on being.
The verdict of the NCL clubs on Tuesday will be of interest to every other amateur Ruby League competition as they look to follow suit with what the NCL decide, although in fairness the Youth Leagues have seemingly been operating a duel-reg system for two years now.
The NCL Management believe they have a mechanism that can make this work and benefit the sport. But they also realise it is a big leap into the unknown in some respects, and lack of trust is a big player in some amateur clubs belief that this won’t work.
Tuesday is a big decision in so many ways for the amateur clubs of the National Conference League as well of those of the Championship.