Casting the net for future talent

Posted: Friday 12th April 2019 - 4:59 PM

Castleford, almost by default, is – and always has been – a thriving rugby league town. While the rest of the nation obsesses over the round ball, our town has always existed in something of a vacuum. When you cross the border, the 13-man code is king.

However, over the last few years, a worrying trend has emerged. There is an understandable expectation amongst Castleford supporters that home-grown talent in our youth system is a given – and why shouldn’t there be, with so many ‘Cas lads’ currently in and around the first team squad?

But, as Tigers’ Head of Youth Darren Higgins explains, this is no longer necessarily the case.

“I think there’s a real misconception that loads of kids are playing rugby in Cas, but they’re just not anymore.

“We’ve got three or four clubs who run most age groups, but after that it’s really sporadic.

“In years gone by, it was really easy in this area because we had lots of young talent to choose from, and this is mirroring a real problem the sport has nationwide.”

The magnitude of this growing issue is perhaps best exemplified by the Tigers’ blossoming scholarship outfit that have enjoyed a fantastic start to their 2019 season in recent weeks, winning their opening four matches of the season.

Of the twenty 16-year-olds involved in Danny Evans’ squad, remarkably, just two are Castleford-based and play for a club with a WF10 postcode.

In essence, it’s a far from ideal situation for the Tigers’ youth department, but the changing nature of the game has forced us to look further afield in the hunt for the game’s brightest talent.

“We’d prefer to recruit locally but there’s just not enough kids playing the game,” explains Higgins.

“We need to find a way to get kids playing again because the talent pool is shrinking and making it a lot more difficult.

“Our Talent ID process begins at under 13s and we set ourselves the challenge of attending every game up to under 16s level in the local area.

“We’re looking for future potential in these players rather than current performance and a bunch of variables are considered.

“We look at technical and tactical ability, athletic potential and we have an emphasis on mental characteristics, which we’ve developed our own framework for, adapted by a model used by the FA. Plus, there’s wider consideration for areas such as maturation, relative age affect, plating age and the level of coaching a player is receiving at that level."

To read the full feature on the academy's talent ID process, plus an interview with under-16s coach Danny Evans on his side's start to the season, pick up a copy of the club's monthly magazine ROAR in store for just £1.

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