Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are hoping to prove there is no place like home by achieving a dream of fielding a homegrown team in the near future.
Sharlston’s Danny Kirmond has led by example as Wildcats captain this season, while Normanton’s Ben Cockayne has achieved England squad selection thanks to his form on the Wakefield wing.
And the club’s chief executive James Elston is desperate to see more homegrown players pulling on the red, white and blue with pride.
The Wakefield district is a hotbed of rugby league talent, showcased by the success of players including Gareth Ellis and Ben Westwood, and the Rapid Solicitors Stadium club are working hard to ensure that talent comes through the Wildcats’ youth system and features for the club’s first team.
“Our aim is very clear - we want a homegrown team,” said Elston.
“From minute one from when we took the club on, nothing’s changed. It probably took us 18 months to review the youth structure. Now we feel we’re getting it right.
“We’ve still got things we need to improve but we looked at what we were doing right, we looked at what we were doing wrong and we’ve now put the stepping stones in place to get there.
“The aim is that rather to look overseas for talent that they’re the cherry on the top. If you’ve got a Tim Smith, Paul Aiton and Dean Collis then great, but we want them surrounded by local talent, and that’s why we strive to keep people like Danny Kirmond.”
Wildcats have worked tirelessly to ensure youth is a key focus at the club.
Ryan Hudson and Stuart Dickens arrived in the close season to bolster the youth coaching set-up alongside John Kain and Elston says the trio, alongside Wakefield’s first-team coaching staff, are going to great lengths to ensure the club’s future stars are on-track to pull on the Wakefield shirt.
“The effort John Kain and Ryan Hudson have gone to to create this culture down there has been great,” he said.
“We’re attracting players that we’d have never been able to get before and that’s a big message for the club.
“That goes through because Richard [Agar] puts his time in with them, James Webster does, Lewis [Williams], Clogger [Martin Clawson] all put their time into working with the youngsters.
“So if you’re a 16-year-old player at Wakefield you actually know the first team coach, you get to speak to him and you can actually see your pathway.
“We’ve also got some players that are absolutely brilliant with the young guys. Richard Mathers, Justin Poore, so it’s a really nice transition.
“Max Jowitt’s dropped into first team training, at the moment Jack Anderson’s training with them, Ben Shulver is.
“Richard has given them the opportunity to have a go and see what they can do and have a look at them. That doesn’t happen at every club.”
Shulver and Dan Maskill both featured in Wakefield’s Challenge Cup win over Hemel Stags in April while Jowitt, part of the club’s under-16s squad, is a key member of the England RL Youth squad.
That U16s side is one Elston is excited about - they went through this season unbeaten with six wins and one draw, scoring over 50 points in four of those matches.
And from September Wildcats are hopeful a new Sport and Education Academy will accelerate their young players’ progress, as well as offer them a safety net in education.
Youngsters will be able to tie-in studying a BTEC National Diploma in Sports Performance and Excellence at the stadium alongside squad training and work experience in a sports environment.
“We can bring our 16 year olds, educate them at the stadium, give them a taste of being in a full-time environment, but also give them a taste of work experience within the back office such as in media and marketing, and really give them an all-round life experience but also accelerate their rugby league,” said Elston.
“It’s given a fully-rounded educational offer and instead of training on a night in the winter, we can train through the day, which is huge.”
Visit www.wakefieldwildcats.co.uk for more information on the course.