Wakefield Wildcats: Cats aim to make the grade off the pitch

MAKING THE GRADE: Wildcats Sport and Education Academy.
MAKING THE GRADE: Wildcats Sport and Education Academy.

Producing talented young players from within has never been more important for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

The club’s current cash problems, which have forced the sale of Tim Smith to Salford City Reds and Kyle Amor to St Helens, means promoting youth is the cheaper, and more fulfulling method of forming a first-team for the future.

That’s why an education-led focus on the club’s talented crop of young players, and potential players, is now high on the agenda at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium.

The Wakefield district has always been a hotbed of rugby league talent but that talent has often opted to take their future elsewhere . Gareth Ellis and Ben Westwood are just two of Super League’s top players to come through the club’s youth set-up but swiftly move on to pastures new.

Ryan Hampshire, from Normanton, was also snapped up by Wigan Warriors and made a big impact when stepping in for Sam Tomkins at full-back last season.

But now Wakefield are aiming to change all that and keep the best young players at the club in the near future.

The club has successfully launched its Sport and Education Academy, which provides a BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Sports Performance and Excellence.

Director of Education Mark Winder and Head of Youth Ryan Hudson have overseen the launch of the Academy and the pair are confident it will bear fruit for the club, and the students, in the coming years.

“It’s exciting times for the club,” said Hudson.

“The Academy allows us to have these talented young players in at the club full-time rather than just a couple of times a week. We can tailor the BTEC diploma around their rugby league.

“So we’ll be accelerating their progression as rugby league players and we’ll also be providing them with a safety net for a future out of rugby league if it comes to that, they’ll have a qualification that can get them into university.”

Winder said: “We want to develop our own players, keep our own players and see them all the way through to the first team.

“We’ve looked at a lot of models from professional football clubs who’ve been running this way for 15 years and looked at the success they’ve had from it.

“In order for the boys to become the players they can be we need them to be in a full-time environment.

“The education is very important but we can run that around their playing needs.

“If someone wants to be a lorry driver they need to understand how the lorry works. It’s the same with rugby league and the BTEC provides all the underpinning knowledge about succeeding as a rugby league player.”

Wildcats are one of just three Super League clubs providing such courses in-house.

“We’ve got the most people out of Super League doing the apprenticeship,” Winder said.

“There are 36 people doing it overall and we have 15 on the course which is great news.

“It puts the tools in their toolbox that prepares them to be full-time professionals.”

The BTEC diploma is run in partnership with Loughborough College and is run over two years under the guidance of four full-time members of staff as well as specialists that come in from the club’s first team, such as conditioners and head coach Richard Agar, as well as from higher and further education.

Funding is not a problem with a new company, The Yorkshire Sporting and Education Academy, set-up as a separate entity to the club.

Hudson is confident the Academy will be a big success but says it will not be a quick fix for Wildcats’ on-the-pitch fortunes.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

“Some of these lads in the under-19s are only 16 so they’ve got time to progress.

“There’s a big difference physically even by just a year at that age but hopefully having them in full-time will help that.

“We’ve kept eight or nine of the more senior players last season and blended them with some new players and some of the under-16s side that went through last season unbeaten.

“We do have a philosophy that if you’re good enough you’re old enough but we’ve also got a good three-year plan to see these lads coming through to the first team.”

Students could opt to do a similar course in a higher education environment but Winder says the Wildcats’ product is unique.

“We’re offering a different product,” he said.

“It’s much more vocational and the students get work experience here - hopefully that will add to someone’s CV a little bit more than if they were just studying at college.

“It could also suit people who may not work as well in a college environment a little bit more so we’re offering something unique here.”

Other courses, such as a Foundation Degree in Rugby League Management, will be launched to make Wildcats’ Belle Vue base a real hub for education.

“The whole education side of things is really going forward and we see it as an important aspect of the club,” Winder commented.

“We see it as something positive that we can give back to the local community, as well as benefit ourselves and our players, and it’s a good way to use the space we have on offer here when the pitch is only being used 13 times a year.”

He added: “There’s going to be in excess of 150 students using our facilities from January so there’ll be a real collegiate feel to the place.”

For more information on the Wildcats’ Sport and Education Academy text SPORT to 07841 997214.