Keiron Cunningham has slammed the current dual-registration set-up as “ridiculous” and “stupid” ahead of the Super 8s.
Once the season splits, with Super League’s top eight fighting for a place in the play-offs, while the bottom four join the Championships top four to decide the make-up of next year’s top flight, fringe players will no longer be able to flit back and forth between their parent clubs and dual registration partners.
I understand why they come up with the rulings but there’s not much common sense behind it if you ask meSaints head coach Keiron Cunningham
This means Cunningham, like other Super League coaches, will have to decide whether to let players carry on with their dual-registration clubs (with no option of recalling them to his side) or put them on standby should injuries hit and risk them not playing a game until next season.
The under-19s set-up has no concessions for over age players, meaning there is no reserve grade to keep players match fit, and Cunningham has warned of the damage this arrangement could do developing players in future.
“I now have to break a kid’s heart or make his day,” he said of the decision he has to make before next week’s deadline.
“And then make his day by sitting him on the sidelines for the next 10 games or whatever it’s going to be if he’s not going to figure.
“I understand why they come up with the rulings but there’s not much common sense behind it if you ask me.
“We pay these players’ wages and we want them to play rugby league.”
In the past, concessions have been made for older players, such as those returning from injury or wanting to keep match fitness, to play lower grades, such as the old under-20s set-up.
But this was voted against by bosses of smaller clubs as a cost-cutting measure when the current system was brought in.
“There’s something we have to do. We have to address it,” added Cunningham.
“We really have to look at our reserves. Top and bottom line is there are a handful of clubs that don’t want to do it because they can’t afford to do it.
“The whole game is suffering for a certain group of individuals who say we’re not going to do it.”
Cunningham has been vocal in the past about the current set-up’s detriment to developing young players.
And there is evidence across Super League to suggest some of the competition’s best players take longer to develop than the window of opportunity the under-19s presents.
Saints’ own Alex Walmsley started in the amateur game, progressing in the Championship before being picked-up by the champions, and Warrington’s Chris Hill is another example of a late bloomer.
And Cunningham argues the time frame isn’t adequate to support developing Super League standard English players.
“You always tell your players if you stand still people will go past you,” he explained.
“Junior development is part of our game. You have the NRL taking your best players and you have to keep producing.
“If you’re not going to give your kids a chance to produce you are going to struggle and our game is going to die.
“We have to make decision on kids’ futures after three years. You have more time with those kids before they’ve even signed a professional contract - you nurture these kids from being nine, 10. You give them advice being juniors and then you’ve got a point where you’ve put three years into them and then you’ve got to roll a dice.
“You can’t play for 19s but we’ll give you another contract because you’ve got some form of hope.
“What do you do with them because they are not ready for Super League? The system’s upside down. The cart is in front of the horse.”
Some top clubs have mooted the idea of playing each other in mid-season friendlies to solve the problem, but due to the logistics of organising extra matches, this looks unlikely to happen this year.