DANNY Richardson was the breakthrough player for Saints in 2018, stepping up to first-team football superbly in the absence of Matty Smith, writes Jack Coslett.

The young scrum half can only be admired for his impressive entrance on the Super League scene, but should it be so 'noteworthy' to see a young player getting a chance?

Saints, along with Wigan Warriors and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, are the only clubs opting to uphold a ‘reserve grade’ at their respective clubs this season with the remainder of Super League deciding to favour dual-registration.

Saints chief executive Mike Rush has long been an advocate for 'A' team rugby, praising its importance in transforming academy players into Super League stars.

He said: “At the minute in the under 19s, you can be the best player at your level and never have played against a man. So how do you make the transition from being in the under 19s into first-team football? It becomes difficult.”

In essence, the idea behind reserve grade rugby is to provide a stepping stone for players to get form academy level to first-grade rugby league.

With a smattering of first-team players mixed with those hoping to break through from the under 19s, the reserve grade gives those youngsters the opportunity to test themselves against players who are more mature both physically and mentally.

It also allows first-team players that are out of selection, the chance to showcase their talent when left out of the squad or to build-up match fitness on the return from injury.

“If you’ve got a fit and healthy first-team squad, you’ve got six or seven who aren’t going to be playing,” Rush added.

As a result of the lack of Super League clubs opting against the reserve grade, Saints will be organising their own fixture list for the reserve outfit, allowing a refreshing sense of flexibility to the second-string game.

Rush told the Star: “We’re playing North Wales in a week or two and we’ve organised to play Leigh after that.

"We’re going to try and make things work, we might even play a couple on a Wednesday night.

"If we know everyone’s fit and healthy, we can organise a fixture for the Wednesday night and the lads can double up for the Saturday (under 19s).

"It’s no problem, they’ve got a few days to recover. They’re young men, they’ll recover, and it will give (head coach) Justin (Holbrook) the chance to play some of the first team.”

In an ideal world, all Super League clubs would follow the three-tier format, reserve grade fixtures running similar to the first-team format.

However, most the top-flight clubs have opted to run a dual-registration system for their side instead.

“We’d have liked to have had 65 players and fielded a full reserves squad but there’s just not enough clubs that will do it. It's affecting our development here massively,” Rush added.

Dual-registration allows players to have contracts with both a Super League club and a Championship or League One club, the idea being that those not expected to get into the first team but are too old to play for the academy, can play for their partner club throughout the season.

Rush explained his issues with dual-registration.

“I think if we're not careful we will harm that transition of being a good junior player into a senior player," he said.

"I think we're noticing it now. Rob Fairclough, who’s a super talented kid at academy, is in his first year where he can’t play at under 19s. So where do we get Rob in without reserves?

"Rob's a scrum-half, and the likes of Workington, Whitehaven or Swinton want an experienced scrum half that’s going to get them around the field.

"They don’t want to be helping us develop somebody who we might then pull back if he’s playing well and I get that.

"That’s not a criticism of these partner clubs, I’d be doing the same if I was their coach. I’d be saying well I’m going to go and get myself a 28-year-old scrum half.

“My question is, how are we going to go and get a 28-year-old scrum half in three years’ time?”

Although sending a player who has stepped out of the academy to the lower divisions to learn his trade seems like a functional way to develop youth, Rush feels it is damaging for the next generation of rugby league players coming through the system.

Under dual-registration, that level of player would more than likely work a full-time job, travel to train with their Championship club two week nights and earn not much more than expenses.

“Trying to juggle all of it is too hard for a lot of players and unfortunately most have to step out of the game," said Rush.

"It is not that they want to – but they’ll have to step out and go and play for an amateur club because they have other priorities.”

Despite advice from the RFL in 2016 to have a reserve grade, most clubs in Super League voted against it.

The common reason given is the financial cost to running an 'A' team.

Rush believes cost doesn’t have to be such an issue.

“I think to be fair to the RFL, it supports the reserves but if the clubs don’t support it then it’s going to fall flat on its face," he said.

"We need to galvanise some support among the other clubs and show that it’s the best path to take.

"If we can move the under 19s to under 18s, you’ve got all the players currently in the last year of the under 19s who can be the mainstay of your reserves so there’s no real cost difference.

"There’s some travel, there’s some ironing extra kit, feeding players, but it's minimal!

“We're a late maturation sport and that’s a fact, so kids grow at different stages and as a late maturation sport let’s give those kids until they are 21 the chance to develop.”