Following an independent accreditation process, which monitors the performance and progression of 13 junior development programmes, a record eight clubs have been assessed as ‘Outstanding’ in 2017 - three more than last year.
Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Warrington Wolves, Widnes Vikings and Wigan Warriors have retained their ‘Outstanding’ rating and have been joined by Catalans Dragons, City of Hull Academy and Huddersfield Giants.
An evaluation of ‘Outstanding’ represents a level of performance which exemplifies best practice and implies that these very high levels of performance are sustainable and will be maintained.
All 13 Academies have been awarded licences – which is funded by Super League - to run for four years through to 2020 and are measured against that and their current practice.
Rugby Football League Chief Operating Officer, Ralph Rimmer, said: “Eight clubs achieving an ‘Outstanding’ rating is fantastic news for the sport – they should all be extremely proud of themselves along with the other clubs who have made significant improvements over the last 12 months.
“It’s promising to see Catalans, City of Hull Academy and Huddersfield up there and the work they’re doing with the players coming through their Academies.
“Standards across the Academy competition are always improving and this is down to the co-operation and commitment from all teams during the accreditation process.”
This is the sixth year that the Academy accreditation audit has taken place. The process is focused on three key areas: quality of leadership and management; how well Academies meet the needs of players; and the delivery of the player development system.
The findings of the Academy accreditation audit are as follows:
Rating: Requires Improvement
After a difficult period at the club, improvements have already begun and the new owners have stabilised and initiated the re-building process with confidence within the club becoming apparent. Staffing structures within departments are improving, player recruitment within the Academy has quickly been addressed after many juniors left during administration and the culture and environment has remained strong throughout. The primary objective will remain the same, good people progressing their talent at Bradford Bulls.
Catalans Dragons have been rated as outstanding and it’s down to the hard work undertaken by the club three years ago and the dedicated staff who support the programme. Their mission is to develop French players for the first team and have seen eight players making their debuts in Super League and progressing in the last three seasons. This vision is supported by the club directors and leaders and has seen a significant investment into this process.
Castleford Tigers have been recognised as a good Academy and have continued to make considerable improvements since last year’s accreditation. The club provides comprehensive holistic player development provision with mental skills, nutrition and player education complimenting good talent identification, coaching, athletic development and medical systems. Strategic improvements over the last 12 months include a newly formed education partnership with Castleford Academy and a player development partnership with the Midlands Hurricanes Regional Academy. Underpinning this, the clubs England Talent Pathway programme has been recognised as providing good practice around player and coach development including a partnership with the West Riding Football Association.
Huddersfield Giants are an outstanding Academy and the club has invested time, resource, money, expertise and belief in the Academy processes over the last three years. It has developed a clear mission and vision through working together coherently for a dynamic club wide ‘philosophy and blueprint’ with the insightful coupling of performance and education, creating a more holistic approach. The Academy’s bespoke staffing structure extending to welfare and chaplaincy make its innovative player centric approach extremely evident. Full-time training and education programmes accelerate progression within the club’s pathway, increasing opportunities towards first team and Super League ambitions.
The City of Hull Academy continues to operate at an outstanding level. Built around the exceptional sporting facilities at Bishop Burton College, the Academy has an impressive player pathway, resulting in an excellent success rate of players graduating to first team contracts. The clear vision and philosophy of the Academy creates innovation and direction to provide a quality experience for all young players within the programme. Inspirational college partnerships ensure players’ needs are met through bespoke learning initiatives.
Leeds Rhinos have done a great deal of work over the past year to build on our strong performance last year and take the youth development programme forward. There are still areas they need to improve on and the report has been useful in highlighting those areas with a reference to post 18 student recruitment that they can look at moving forward. Importantly for them as a club, it was gratifying to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in looking after the young players both on the field and in the classroom being recognised.
London Broncos have continued to make substantial progress over the last 12 months and as a result have had their ‘Good’ status reaffirmed. The facility provides an excellent training / playing environment and the programme has developed in many areas, including nutritional provision, to offer a holistic player experience. Collaboration with partners such as St Mary’s University enables a transition through the educational pathway and the synergy between the Academy and first team offers a clear pathway to become a full-time professional player.
Newcastle have again achieved the status of a "good" Academy. Newcastle have strengthened their working relationship with Newcastle Rugby Foundation, which has been embedded to further enhance its player pool. There is an excellent link with Further & Higher Education establishments. The Academy has a strong multi-disciplinary team that focuses on developing players holistically. Whilst only holding category 2 status, there are many features of this Academy that could be considered to be at category 1 standard.
St. Helens continue to be a leading Rugby League performance and talent development environment being rated as “outstanding in all areas” for the fifth year running. The club has made significant investment in Academy-specific facilities, further demonstrating a long-term commitment towards club developed Super League players, which is also reflected by the number of such players in the Super League squad. Implemented by an experienced management team, the club’s strategy is a dynamic approach towards a sustainable production of future ‘Saints’.
Rating: Requires Improvement
Wakefield Trinity Academy has been graded the same as last year and although requires improvement, has made progress since last time and has some good features. Strides have been made forward and this has been recognised. The Academy is commended for forward thinking with its new kinetic online player system, its relationship with Wakefield College and it continues to put players education at the forefront of what they do. The Talent ID team has an established system in place. Areas for development continue to be facilities which is being addressed along with stronger leadership in key areas.
Warrington Wolves has been recognised again as an outstanding Academy through the accreditation process. The report highlights the excellent work done in building relationships with the local community clubs, high performance facilities, coaching and sport science support services. The strong link driven by the CEO & Board to make the Academy central to the clubs’ long-term vision. Finally, that the whole program places the athlete’s needs at the centre of everything that is delivered and is highlighted as an outstanding feature.
As an established outstanding Academy, Widnes Vikings provide a pathway for players to progress to full-time professional Rugby League. There are currently 15 Academy graduates in the current first team squad. The long-term approach and philosophy is evident in identification, recruitment, development and retention of players with the potential to succeed at the highest level. The Board recognise that club success and sustainability is dependent upon the youth programme, with continued investment in youth staff over the last 12 months reflecting this importance.
Wigan Warriors is an outstanding academy. At the core of the club’s philosophy is an expectation and trust that the Academy will produce players to the first team and the international stage. This is delivered through an embedded leadership programme, excellent staffing structure, continued innovation in the player pathway, a strong culture of continual improvement and a shared commitment at every level of the club to developing young players. The Wigan club place great emphasis on the welfare of its players, which is monitored and managed through excellent relationships with families, education providers and the community game.