NRL’s plan opens door for reserve graders
The NRL will introduce a radical change to its eligibility rules in 2021 in a return to the halcyon days of rugby league.
The Townsville Bulletin can reveal the NRL has rushed through a rule change to allow clubs to dip into their feeder club stocks midway through the season as injuries begin to hit.
Players outside of the a club's top-30 roster can be called up from their Queensland Cup or NSW Cup teams from Round 11.
An NRL spokesman confirmed the rule change but added that the players must be signed to club's on a training deal to take the field.
Cowboys head of football Micheal Luck has heralded the rule change suggesting it revisited the traditional pathways from the grassroots to the NRL.
The pathway has not been in place since the disbandment of the national under-20s competition in 2015.
It will also act as an incentive for reserve grade players, with the opportunity of exposure on the national stage on the line.
Luck, who earned his NRL stripes by toiling in the Queensland Cup with the NQ Young Guns, said the initiative opened the door for a lot of players who had been lost to the system.
"I think it was always a bit puzzling why guys that were part of the pathways system were essentially roadblocked when they got to a certain point," he said.
"It is great, it means guys that are having a year out of the box, performing at a high level, have an opportunity to step up. There is a genuine avenue for those guys to be playing first grade.
"For us, a club with three feeder clubs, all of that is exciting. We have got guys who can compete week to week, if they are going well enough they could be in our side."
Luck said he believed the return of the reserve grade pathway did not cancel out the development squad system, with young players still needing time training in an NRL set-up at the start of their careers.
The Cowboys have already aligned their feeder clubs with their structures and play calls to make it easier for allocated players from the top squad when they return to the Queensland Cup. Those systems could give the other players in their three feeder clubs - Townsville Blackhawks, Northern Pride and Mackay Cutters - a leg up in their quest for NRL opportunities.
Blackhawks coach Aaron Payne has backed his players to take heed of the opportunity and work even harder in the 2021 season.
"It will give all the second tier blokes a real spring in their step, knowing they are a chance of progressing up the tree," Payne said.
"I am sure (the Cowboys) will be interested in how not just the Blackhawks are going, but how Cairns and Mackay are going as well. They will have access to all of those players to keep a close eye on the players.
Payne also suggested the rule change could apply the blowtorch to underperforming players in the Cowboys squad, with players outside of their squad hungry to come up and take their spot.
The rule change will hinge on the NRL remaining outside of a COVID-19 bubble which it has been for all of the pre-season.
It also comes after ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys declared his desire to return to hosting three games on game day including reserve grade and under-21 competitions. It is part of the chairman's plan to return the code to its fans.
Originally published as NRL's plan opens door for reserve graders