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Dual-reg comes under spotlight
THE departure from York City Knights of the four dual-registration lads, plus the saga concerning the two from Castleford, has brought the pros and cons of the dual-reg system back into the spotlight.
On the face of it, it seems a no-lose situation.
Championship clubs borrow Super league wannabes – therefore supposedly good young talent – to bolster their teams at a seemingly affordable cost; and Super League clubs give their young guns experience of open-age rugby league, a tougher standard than U20s rugby.
However, Championship clubs, not least the Knights, have found that in practice it can be disruptive and leave them a little in the lurch.
This season, like the past two seasons, provides examples.
Chris Green and Laurence Pearce joined from Hull at the start of term, both on dual-reg forms. But Green played only three games and Pearce none at all – he attended only one training session at the Knights – before both were recalled to the Black and Whites ranks.
Green was called into the Super League frame and, given other reserves were promoted due to injuries in the first team, Pearce was needed back at the KC for their second string.
The surprise departure back to Warrington of Ben Hellewell and Brooke Broughton this week is perhaps even more telling. Both have been regulars in the Knights’ 17, with Hellewell in particular impressing, but the Wolves have now decided they want them back in their first-team picture – regardless of whether they get selected.
Again it leaves the Knights short.
One could argue the loss is not too huge a blow, even before last night’s agreement regarding Cas lads John Davies and Ben Johnson as on today’s back page.
For a start, Pearce was never here anyway, while the emergence of former New Earswick amateur back-rower Joe Hemmings means Broughton’s place could have been in doubt even prior to Davies’ arrival.
There are also enough options in the backs to cover the loss of Hellewell, even if he did impress. That means, one could argue, that Green is the only player of the four, if any, who would be missed, and he only played thrice.
But, if that’s the case, why bring them all here in the first place?
Also, while it could be argued there are like-for-like replacements for, say, Hellewell and Broughton, already in the squad, the fact these two Warrington lads were selected suggests they were deemed the better players. Therefore their departure surely is a blow given, by definition, it weakens the team.
In mitigation, the Knights did not pay a fee for any of this quartet, just match payments to the players. Talk of a set fee to a parent club of about £300 per player per match is incorrect, as each dual-reg signing has its own agreement. Therefore the Knights did not lose in a financial sense.
But is there not still disruption, given parent clubs can recall players at any time or only give them permission to play on a week-by-week basis?
That recall feature is what effectively makes dual-reg different to loan agreements whereby parent clubs sign the player away for a minimum of four weeks, and the borrowing club knows for sure they will be available in that period.
The will-they-won’t-they saga of the two Cas lads – half-back Johnson and second-row Davies – brought further disruption this week, even if it did end on a hopefully positive note.
As The Press understands it, the Knights had even planned their reserves line-up on Wednesday on the basis the pair would be available this weekend. But then Cas back-tracked due to injuries in their first-team squad and the three-match ban for scrum-half Rangi Chase.
The Tigers’ decision was perfectly reasonable. But how does it benefit the Knights?
Since then, there has been another change of heart meaning Davies is available for York this weekend and Johnson is set to follow in a fortnight.
That’s great news on the face of it, especially given Davies’ fine form when he was last here and given it’s no secret the club desperately need a new half-back. The reported fee of about £300 per match for Davies – with Johnson free – will hopefully also be worth it.
But, if, say, the team find a new pattern of play to suit Johnson’s arrival in particular, what happens when Cas recall him, as could happen at any time?
And it is a case of when, not if, they recall him, given past experience.
The Knights had the same rigmarole with Tigers pair Davies and Nathan Massey in previous seasons, when both impressed for York only to go back to Wheldon Road, with the Knights not knowing if or when they’d have them available again. As it turned out, they didn’t come back. On the one occasion they got offered Massey’s services, they decided against paying the associated fee.
Most gallingly, especially in Davies’ case, he barely featured for Cas’s first team, so the supposed benefit of his getting open-age experience didn’t materialise either.
Here’s hoping his, and Johnson’s, stay is longer and more productive for everyone this time – but what are the odds it is not?
THE impending dual-reg arrival at the Knights of Ben Johnson would mark a return to his former home city – and one where, as a lad, he rewrote rugby league record books.
Back in 2001, Johnson, then an under-9s player, was described by The Press – then the Evening Press – as a “rugby league superkid” given he was in line to smash a British try-scoring record set by Simon Haughton, the then Wigan star.
The article read: “Pocket rocket Ben Johnson, who plays for York Acorn juniors, will join the likes of Haughton and Great Britain legend Joe Lydon on the list of players to have set a new best should he continue his stunning form tomorrow.
“If the nine-year-old half-back scores seven tries in the final tournament of the season, he will break the record for the most touchdowns scored in a single season of club rugby league at all age levels.
“Johnson has notched 115 tries in 32 games this season, at an average of just over seven every two games. And as tomorrow’s tournament will see Acorn U9s play a minimum of four group games, plus more if they qualify for the knockout stages, he has a great chance to get his name into the record books.”
Johnson, who joined Acorn aged four, had also equalled Haughton’s record of 121 tries in the previous season while at U8s level. He had what would have been a record-breaking touchdown in the final match of that campaign ruled out.
Johnson’s family later moved from York, with the player joining Smawthorne Panthers and then Castleford Lock Lane amateur clubs before penning a full-time deal with the Tigers aged 19 last October.
FORMER Press Player of the Year Adam Sullivan’s solid show against Sheffield last week has seen him go joint-top of this year’s standings.
He was our man of the match last Sunday so gets three points on his Player of the Year tally. Last year’s winner, Nathan Freer, was our second-best player (2pts) so make another mark on the leaderboard so soon after his return to the club. James Ford (1pt) collected this week’s remainder, being deemed the third-best player on the day.
The Press Player of the Year standings: Aldous 7pts, Sullivan 7, Thorman 6, King 6, Clarke 5, Ford 5, Bush 4, Tansey 4, Sutton 4, Green 3, Garside 3, Lee 3, Hellewell 3, Turner 3, Freer 3.
THE Knights are selling tickets for the Challenge Cup final on Saturday, August 26, in all price categories. Tickets start at £26 and the Knights receive £13 from every ticket sold. To book Wembley tickets through the club, phone 01904 767404. Tickets are limited.
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