Wednesday 19 October 2011

2012 - A new opportunity for South Yorkshire

Dodworth and Sheffield Hillsborough are the two South Yorkshire clubs that attempted to improve their playing standards by joining the National Conference League. The facilities at both clubs were excellent. The complex at Hillsborough was built in that late 1990s and had two pitches, modern off field facilities and a bar and function room all for the exclusive use of the rugby club. Dodworth’s facilities, although not as up to date as Hillsborough’s, were more than adequate. A large flat pitch, changing rooms, a bar and club room on the site meant that Dodworth more than met the NCL criteria. Both Dodworth and Hillsborough had good support at home games and initially there appeared to be enough good players at both clubs in order to sustain a competitive team
So why have both attempts to establish National Conference League clubs in South Yorkshire failed? I think there are three main reasons why South Yorkshire hasn’t been able to sustain this level of rugby: player supply, coaching and the commitment of the professional club
Player supply
Hillsborough and Dodworth were competitive on the field when they had their best team available but if any key players were missing both clubs struggled. There is no real player depth in South Yorkshire. The standard of Conference rugby is so much higher than the standard of the local open age clubs. If a player was recruited by Hillsborough or Dodworth from a local club he would often struggle to adapt to what was required of him both skill wise and physically. Also, when the two clubs were in the NCL neither of them had developed their junior structures to a standard that meant that a young player could move successfully from youth rugby into open age.
Both clubs struggled to find coaches who had sufficient experience in the game in order to ensure the players were well prepared for the tough environment they were being thrust into. Paul Harkin, who coached Dodworth for a period, was an exception. Paul had been a successful professional and his experience meant that when he was coaching Dodworth they had their most successful period. However, once Paul departed standards declined rapidly and this resulted in Dodworth leaving the NCL. A coaching structure, at both clubs, that had experienced men at the top could have ensured that an environment was created for players that enabled them to adjust to the demands of Conference rugby.
The professional club
 I am not convinced that Sheffield Eagles recognised the value of having a successful Conference club in their catchment area. There appeared to be initial enthusiasm for the idea. However, very soon friction between the professionals and amateurs resulted in both clubs suffering. Sheffield Eagles appeared to see no real value in the presence of the Conference club and the amateurs seemed to believe that the professionals were working against them.
Although Amateur Rugby League has been played in South Yorkshire for nearly forty years it is still seen as an 'alien invader'. Soccer dominates and the sport has hundreds of clubs playing at all levels. Rugby League, in South Yorkshire, is never going to challenge soccer's dominance but the sport does need to provide an opportunity for the best amateur players to test themselves at a higher level.  In 2012 Rugby League will have a new four tier pyramid structure based on a March to November playing season.This new structure will provide South Yorkshire clubs with a great opportunity to improve their playing standards and develop teams that can compete at a much higher level. I hope they will rise to the challenge.

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