14th December 2018, 11:15 | Community
Discussions have been taking place between the RFL and a number of regional playing leagues over the introduction of a new Under 20s competition - with a view to piloting a new Open Age playing offer in 2019.
The newly-branded competition - which will be known as RLT20 (Rugby League Transition Under 20s) - will have a national profile and be based on a split season.
Regional fixtures will take place between March and July, with crossover fixtures taking centre stage during September and October. With both the Yorkshire Men's League and North West Men's League involved in preliminary discussions, 'Origin' style play-off fixtures between teams in Lancashire and Yorkshire could provide a fitting finale to the new competition.
Marc Lovering, the RFL's Director of Participation and Development, explained how RLT20 has been conceived to tackle the challenge facing Rugby League as with the majority of team sports - transitioning youth players through to Open Age playing competitions.
"Some young players successfully make the step up to Open Age without any difficulty," said Lovering.
"Many already feature in their respective first teams, be it in regional competition or the NCL.
"However, some are simply not ready to make that step up even at 19 or 20 and it is those players we are looking to attract with this new competition. If we can keep more young players engaged with a flexible offer tailored to their needs then more players will be retained within their clubs which will ultimately benefit the other Open Age sides.
"The concept is not entirely new. The Yorkshire Men's League has previously looked to run an offer aimed specifically at younger Open Age players. But by overlaying a more national element to the competition with the possibility of playing some fixtures against different opposition we hope, collectively, to gain more traction this time around.
"We will certainly be ensuring we talk directly to players and clubs to ensure they are aware of what the competition has to offer."
The Yorkshire Men's League chairman Stuart Sheard has been involved in discussions with the RFL from the outset.
"We have always strived to offer a number of different playing opportunities to meet the needs of clubs and players," said Sheard.
"Based on the conversations we have had, there appears to be demand for a competition designed specifically to meet the needs of young players. It makes sense to align our Yorkshire Men's League offer with other similar offers elsewhere in the country under the banner of RLT20.
"By offering younger players the opportunity to continue to play with their peers and not be exposed to physically bigger and more mature players before they are ready, we hope to allow for a smoother transition into Open Age rugby.
"Flexibility will be key. The ethos will very much be around getting games played. Flexible game days and kick-off times allowing clubs to schedule fixtures so they don’t impact on other Open Age teams will be important."
Also involved in initial discussions has been Stuart Prior, chairman of the North West Men's League.
"The possibility of piloting a new playing offer was raised at our recent clubs meeting and is something we will be discussing further with some clubs already registering an interest," said Prior.
"The ability to play games involving younger players in a way that suits clubs best - whether midweek, on a Friday evening or before First Team games - is something we would support."
One of the first clubs to express an interest in the new competition was leading Halifax club, Siddal ARLFC.
Martin Scrimshaw, the Siddal chairman, explained: "Some of our younger players have already made the step up to play in our Yorkshire Men's League or National Conference League sides.
"However, we have a number of young players who are not yet ready for that step and enjoy playing together and against sides of a similar age profile.
"The opportunity to play against similar sides, including some clubs we wouldn't normally play against, is something that interests us.
"The fact no fixtures are to be scheduled for August also gives us an opportunity to give some of our younger players exposure to Open Age rugby when our resources can be stretched due to other commitments."
A series of meetings are planned in mid-January 2019 with clubs who have expressed an interest. Any additional clubs wishing to register an interest or any clubs requiring further information should contact one of the following:
Stuart Sheard YML Chair - firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Prior NWML Chair – email@example.com
Tim White RFL Competition Officer - Tim.White@rfl.uk.com
Marc Lovering RFL Director of Participation and Development – firstname.lastname@example.org