Reserves and Under 18s back on alternate weeks in revised 2022 competition

The RFL has agreed with Betfred Super League and a number of Championship clubs for Reserves team rugby to return in 2022 alongside an Under-18s Academy competition.

The plan is for the two competitions to be played on alternate weeks through the season, making a likely maximum of 16 rounds in each, to manage the demands on players and clubs.

There will be a Play-Off series to determine the champions in each grade, which the RFL hope will create high-pressure matches to aid players’ development and stimulate supporter interest.

The entry criteria for Reserves remains the same as it did when the competition was reintroduced for the start of the 2020 season before being curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is mandatory for all Licensed Academies and Super League clubs thus maintaining continuity within the performance pathway.

With that in mind, the competition will involve Bradford Bulls, London Broncos and Newcastle Thunder as well as the top-flight clubs.

RFL chief on-field officer Dave Rotherham said: “We believe this is a positive and important decision which has been made following extensive consultation with the Betfred Super League and Championship clubs.

“There had been a very positive response to the planned return of Reserves, and the resulting switch of the Academy to an Under-18s competition, for the 2020 season before Covid forced the cancellation of all grades of Rugby League below the Betfred Super League.

Castleford Tigers' Jordan Turner - a who came through the Under 18s and Reserves system earlier in his career - scores against Hull FC. (JON CLIFTON/SWPIX)

“It has remained impractical to reintroduce Reserves in 2021 given the ongoing complications arising from Covid, which has been a source of frustration to the RFL and most importantly the players who have been deprived of playing and development opportunities.

“That is why we were so keen to confirm the return of Reserves in 2022, and we congratulate the clubs for their willingness and enthusiasm to make this possible despite the considerable financial and logistical challenges.

“We have worked with the clubs to devise a structure which manages those challenges, for example by ensuring the Reserves and Under-18 Academy competitions will be run on alternate weeks, so that clubs only field one team beneath first grade on a weekly basis. This will also provide the appropriate level of challenge for our talented young players and playing opportunities for senior squad members.

“We believe the addition of Play-Offs will create an opportunity for the players to be tested in ‘knockout’ football and create wider interest.”

Salford Red Devils' Morgan Escare is tackled by Catalans Dragons in their Super League defeat. (PAUL CURRIE/SWPIX)