Castleford Tigers' hard work pays off with Elite Academy Licence granted

Castleford Tigers’ increasing emphasis once again on their youth structure has paid its first dividends with the granting of an Elite Academy Licence from the Rugby Football League until the end of the 2027 season.
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Much hard work has gone into satisfying the Rugby League that they were wrong not to initially grant the licence to a club that has down the years produced and developed more than its fair share of great players.

Back in May 2021, the Tigers were stunned to learn that the club would not be awarded an Elite Academy Licence for the period of 2022 through to 2027, but a month later the controversial decision was overturned thanks to an outcry from Castleford supporters and the wider rugby league community, plus all the hard work of the club in communication with the RFL.

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A Probationary Elite Licence was granted for 2022 and 2023 and the Tigers have now come through the first year of that with renewed strength – with the result that the Elite status has now been fully restored.

Castleford Tigers are delighted that the Club has been granted an Elite Academy Licence from the Rugby Football League until the end of the 2027 season. Picture: Castleford TigersCastleford Tigers are delighted that the Club has been granted an Elite Academy Licence from the Rugby Football League until the end of the 2027 season. Picture: Castleford Tigers
Castleford Tigers are delighted that the Club has been granted an Elite Academy Licence from the Rugby Football League until the end of the 2027 season. Picture: Castleford Tigers

In the last 18 months, Cas has put further emphasis and importance on its youth development and pathways with more routes than ever before available to develop on and off-field careers as part of a comprehensive programme for young players.Unique to Castleford, their education pathway offered to students, sees all of their Academy players in some form of further education linked to the Tigers through the Tigers College, our partnership with University Centre Leeds or through additional linked educational programmes.

Following a thorough accreditation review of the Tigers’ Academy programme, the RFL has granted the club an Elite Academy Licence until the end of 2027. The Tigers also believe that three out of four key areas that were assessed were ‘outstanding’, and the education provision has received acclaim too.

“Everyone at the Tigers is absolutely delighted with this news, it’s some of the biggest news that the club has had for a little while,” said head of youth development Rob Nickolay.

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“The Club needs to be recognised for re-investing into the Academy, the changes that have been made meant we had some tough decisions leading to some sleepless nights, some worries and a hell of a lot of hard work that has gone into it – on and off the field.“I have said a lot that it has been a year of transition putting in the foundations to be re-assessed by the RFL. It was a two-day visit to unpick and see where the Academy is at now as opposed to when we did not receive the licence.

"There has been a whole host of different areas and criteria we have had to meet; some we didn’t reach when we did not get the licence and fell foul or short of.

"When we came in it was a case of re-investing with the club showing belief in the staff that it had put in place, which I am massively grateful for, and we’ve been able to take steps forward. Now to be recognised by the RFL for the direction we have gone in is fantastic.

“From where we were to get to this point has been a worry and has been tough, but everyone has been pulling in the same direction, there is an appetite from the whole club and everyone involved.

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"We saw that when the licence was not granted there was an outpouring of support, and rightfully so. A club in this area with a hotbed of talent that we have got, with the history and heritage we have got, we need an Academy to be a big part of where we are going and the journey that we are going on. This is the start of what is going to be a longer journey.”

Nickolay added: “For the community of Castleford, it is absolutely huge, the richness of the talent that we have around the area, the number of clubs, it really is imperative that there is an Elite Academy here. We talk about community clubs but it’s the schools as well, it’s massive news.

“We need to look at how we meet our players’ needs, but our players are not just the young men or women in our teams it is a lot wider than that. How we meet the needs of the players from schools or the community game and how we invest in bringing that talent through to foster it here.

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"Therefore, the whole community plays its part. That was something I’ve been really passionate about when I came in, getting into the grassroots clubs, finding out what they need from us and what we can do better.

"That is still a journey we’re on, we are still striving for more and we saw a big link earlier this year with our #CasRoots programme to celebrate the community and that’s what we are about because we have that heritage locally too that we need to channel.”

Head of rugby & development at the Tigers, Danny Wilson, praised the “outstanding” work that has gone into obtained the licence.

He said: “From not getting a licence, a club like Castleford, it hurt. It hurt the town and the club, but everything that has been put in place now stands us in good stead for the future.“We have come out of this as an Academy grading ‘Good,’ but we are elite by our practices, I’ve been involved in ‘Outstanding’ Academies, and this is the same as those.

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"The way the criteria reads with the RFL, the player production over recent years hits us a little bit historically, meaning our grading sadly can’t get to that at the moment.

"We will accept ‘Good’ at the minute, but we know we are performing from an ‘Outstanding’ Academy point of view, and when we get re-licenced it will show that, but our players coming through will show that too.”With the Elite Licence now secured for a further five years, Castleford’s aims are not only to remain an Elite Academy Club but to be one that is setting the standards for youth development as Wilson explains.

“For us, the accreditation process is what the RFL want to do, we don’t perform because of that, we perform because we want to make sure that we are front-runners. We are not here to just get a licence or make up the numbers, we are here to lead.“We are doing things that are game-leading, there are things in our system that nobody else in the game is doing, and we want to continue that practice. We want to make sure we are at the front; we want to make sure that people are looking at what we are doing at Cas and taking our ideas on board to help them.

"We will be doing that too to ensure our practice improves, there are a lot of good things that go on in rugby league and we want to share those ideas. For us though, it will always be to try and be at the forefront.”