Castleford Tigers are delighted to confirm that the Club has been granted an Elite Academy Licence from the Rugby Football League until the end of the 2027 season.Back in May 2021, the Tigers were devastated to learn that the Club would not be awarded an Elite Academy Licence for the period of 2022 through to 2027. However in June 2021, following mass support shown from the Castleford fanbase and wider rugby league community, plus all the hard work of the Club in communication with the RFL, a Probationary Elite Licence was granted for 2022 and 2023 In the last 18 months, the Tigers have put further emphasis and importance on our Youth Development and Pathways with more routes than ever before available to develop on and off-field careers as part of a comprehensive programme for young players. Unique to Castleford, our education pathway offered to students, sees all our Academy players in some form of Further Education linked to the Tigers through the Tigers College, our partnership with University Centre Leeds or through additional linked educational programmes.
Following a thorough accreditation review of the Tigers’ Academy programme, the RFL has granted the Club an Elite Academy Licence until the end of 2027. The Tigers also believe that three out of four key areas that were assessed are ‘Outstanding’, and our education provision has received acclaim too. This Elite Licence comes as a very welcome recognition of all the Club’s hard work as Head of Youth Development Rob Nickolay explains.
“Everyone at the Tigers is absolutely delighted with this news, it’s some of the biggest news that the Club has had for a little while,” Nickolay told castlefordtigers.com.
“The Club needs to be recognised for re-investing into the Academy, the changes that have been made meant we had some tough decisions leading to some sleepless nights, some worries, and a hell of a lot of hard work that has gone into it – on and off the field.
“I have said a lot that it has been a year of transition putting in the foundations to be re-assessed by the RFL. It was a two-day visit to unpick and see where the Academy is at now as opposed to when we did not receive the licence. There has been a whole host of different areas and criteria we have had to meet; some we didn’t reach when we did not get the licence and fell foul or short of. When we came in it was a case of re-investing with the Club showing belief in the staff that it had put in place, which I am massively grateful for, and we’ve been able to take steps forward. Now to be recognised by the RFL for the direction we have gone in is fantastic.
“From where we were to get to this point has been a worry and has been tough, but everyone has been pulling in the same direction, there is an appetite from the whole club and everyone involved. We saw that when the licence was not granted there was an outpouring of support, and rightfully so. A club in this area with a hotbed of talent that we have got, with the history and heritage we have got, we need an Academy to be a big part of where we are going and the journey that we are going on. This is the start of what is going to be a longer journey.”
Castleford has a proud history of local young talent coming through the ranks and playing for the First Team, with many of the Club’s most highly regarded stars during its history coming from the town and developing in our systems. Our region is such a strong breeding ground for rugby league, so it was vital that Castleford’s youth system is at the heart of it all as Nickolay discusses further.
“For the community of Castleford, it is absolutely huge, the richness of the talent that we have around the area, the number of clubs, it really is imperative that there is an Elite Academy here. We talk about community clubs but it’s the schools as well, it’s massive news.
“We need to look at how we meet our players’ needs, but our players are not just the young men or women in our teams it is a lot wider than that. How we meet the needs of the players from schools or the community game and how we invest in bringing that talent through to foster it here. Therefore, the whole community plays its part. That was something I’ve been really passionate about when I came in, getting into the grass roots clubs, finding out what they need from us and what we can do better. That is still a journey we’re on, we are still striving for more and we saw a big link earlier this year with our #CasRoots programme to celebrate the community, and that’s what we are about because we have that heritage locally too that we need to channel.”
Head of Rugby & Development at the Tigers, Danny Wilson shared his delight at the news that Castleford Tigers will have an Elite Academy Licence until 2027 saying: “The work that has been done over the last year has been outstanding, the Club as a whole has really supported it.
“From not getting a licence, a club like Castleford, it hurt. It hurt the town and the club but everything that has been put in place now stands us in good stead for the future.
“We have come out of this as an Academy grading ‘Good,’ but we are elite by our practices, I’ve been involved in ‘Outstanding’ Academies, and this is the same as those. The way the criteria reads with the RFL, the player production over recent years hits us a little bit historically, meaning our grading sadly can’t get to that at the moment. We will accept ‘Good’ at the minute, but we know we are performing from an ‘Outstanding’ Academy point of view, and when we get re-licenced it will show that, but our players coming through will show that too.”
With the Elite Licence now secured for a further five years, Castleford’s aims are not only to remain an Elite Academy Club but to be one that is setting the standards for youth development as Wilson expands on.
“For us, the accreditation process is what the RFL want to do, we don’t perform because of that, we perform because we want to make sure that we are front-runners. We are not here to just get a licence or make up the numbers, we are here to lead.
“We are doing things that are game-leading, there are things in our system that nobody else in the game is doing, and we want to continue that practice. We want to make sure we are at the front; we want to make sure that people are looking at what we are doing at Cas and taking our ideas on board to help them. We will be doing that too to ensure our practice improves, there are a lot of good things that go on in rugby league and we want to share those ideas. For us though, it will always be to try and be at the forefront.”
Echoing the idea of being leaders in developing youth talent, Castleford Tigers Head Coach Lee Radford firmly expressed his joy at the announcement and reaffirmed his desire for more young players to break through and play for his First Team at Wheldon Road.
“All of us at the Tigers are over the moon, it was a massive disappointment last year to come in and find out the news that the licence was going to be taken away from us, but I think it is a credit to a lot of the hard work that has gone on with our club, the Foundation and Rob Nickolay.
“I am an advocate for the game in general and bringing the kids through. I think as a sport we have not got enough participants playing at the moment. The more we get, the better the youth system is, and the better that is then the better the end product is – it is a long-term philosophical view, but I think it is the right one.”
Radford has made no secret that he is aiming to lower the average age of his top-tier squad, and the Club like Radford want to see more young Castleford players regularly playing Super League matches for the Tigers.
“I think it will be a little bit more of the elbow grease that has already been put in because the progression we have made is fantastic over a twelve-month period, but we are not standing still, we want to get better and better. Our recruitment wants to be around this area at a Scholarship and Academy level and it gives us a better opportunity of filling our top squad with young Castleford talent.”
Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Chief On-Field Officer, spoke highly of the efforts of the Fords’ Youth staff which will positively impact the development of young players and the game in the local area.“Castleford Tigers have worked diligently to secure a full Academy Licence – a just reward for the efforts of Rob Nickolay, Danny Wilson, Simon Fox, and everybody else involved in driving up standards at the Academy. Ultimately young players, the club and the game in general will all benefit.”