Cunningham backs reserve set-up

Saints head coach Keiron Cunningham
Saints head coach Keiron Cunningham

Saints’ boss Keiron Cunningham has put his full weight behind a new reserve competition - insisting it will fill a “black hole” in the rugby league set-up.

Although there has been no formal agreement with the powers-that-be at HQ, nine clubs have pledged their support to what is, in effect, a throwback to the old A-team system and fixtures will commence in February.

Cunningham said: “It will definitely make Rugby League stronger and first teams will eventually reap the benefits and rewards.”

It will give clubs a chance to blood players under 23 - now featuring in the academy side - as part of a squad with open-age players who need game time and other senior staff returning from injury.

The head coach added: “It also takes away a black hole where some youngsters reach the age of 19 and are not superstars and you have to tell them 'thanks very much' an dispense with their services.

“But not all players mature early and being able to play reserve team football gives them a further chance to make the grade.

“You only need to look at players like Mike Bennett and Paul Clough who fell into this category but went on to win silverware at St Helens.”

Cunningham also praised the part the club's chief executive, Mike Rush, had played in getting the new competition up and running.

He said: “I had been getting in Mike's ear for a long time about a reserve division, something he, too, championed, and was mainly responsible for getting it off the ground.

“Everyone else then jumped on board and hopefully in due course the RL will back it formally.”

Saints, Wigan, Hull FC and Warrington Wolves are the Super League clubs involved and will be joined by Keighley Cougars, Halifax, Sheffield, Eagles, Dewsbury,and Featherstone Rovers from the Championship.

“It will give some of our youngsters the chance to get game time under their belts against genuine men and can only be good for their development,” said Cunningham.