IT was a bit of a surprise when Widnes Vikings announced a dual registration partnership with Whitehaven – one that could cause Saints a few headaches if and when they get a fully fit squad back.

In the past Saints had worked closely with the west Cumbrian side as well as having a strong dual-registration link Rochdale Hornets operating a rung below them in Championship 1.

Last season Saints could their players between the two teams, sending up to five players to each team to give them valuable game time. Losing Whitehaven closes a door.

It once again sharpens an argument about what we do with players who are not in contention for the first team, but who are too old to play in the under 19s.

Obviously, the Rochdale Hornets a valuable option for some players – one that has benefited some of the younger members last term.

But for some of the more experienced players needing game time there is a big difference between playing against Featherstone, Leigh and Bradford in the Championship and facing Oxford, Coventry and London Skolars.

The game is crying out for a restoration of the Alliance or an under 21s team.

The current system is illogical as it makes staff make decisions on the future of players, particularly forwards, before they have even begun to really develop.

Nobody wants to go back to the days of the A team – when clubs simply stockpiled over age players, often to the detriment to the development of the juniors.

But surely a 21s, with two over age players allowed has many plus points.

For a start it would allow junior players to keep developing under the eyes of the clubs that have nurtured them from a young age.

It would give the clubs the ability to give players returning from injury some managed game time.

And thirdly, given the employment rules, this would allow an overseas player who cannot get a game to keep match fit and play his way back in.

It is academic at the moment given the number of injuries, but if you look Saints have a 32 man squad. On a good weekend, 19 of those will be involved in the first team while three or four would be still eligible for the 19s.

Even if five go out to Rochdale on dual reg, that still leaves about eight or nine kicking their heels.

Unfortunately you get the impression that the policy on this one is dictated to by cost. There are probably clubs wincing at the idea at having to pay for an extra full time team.

And yet the same clubs are probably happy to take their Super League television money and splash it on constantly buying in players.

Surely one day the penny will drop that growing your own is not only cheaper, but enables clubs to have stronger bonds with their local communities.

The trouble is it seems as though the clubs who invest in youth systems are being held back by those who don’t. Maybe it is an unwritten rule that the players cast off by Wigan, Saints and Leeds will somehow bring up the bottom half clubs back up to scratch and it is a form of player redistribution.

The whole system risks losing players; young men who want a degree of security when they are planning for their lives, careers and futures.

I don’t doubt the staff and junior coaches at Saints have got to make some big decisions at early ages on kids who could potentially go on and do something special. Some of them could be late developers like Alex Walmsley – and look how he is playing now.

Last year Saints had to release Alex Clare and Conor Dwyer – two good little players who could not get game time. Players who are too old for the 19s, but not in contention for the first team have to play them somewhere.

Without trying to state the obvious, players can only get better by competing out on the park - you can’t do it all on a training field. They have got to go out there and play, and work out what they are doing right and wrong.

When money is distributed to clubs, it should be on the condition that a given proportion is spent on feeding the root not picking the flower.

But more than that, we have to put in place a system that allows clubs to keep as many good young players for longer.