Treble winners Leeds Rhinos’ players will be dual-registered with Kingstone Press Championship outfit Featherstone Rovers next season.
The new arrangement has been agreed after Hunslet Hawks, who previously had the use of players not featuring in Rhinos’ first team, were relegated to Championship One.
Hawks will now enter a dual-registration agreement with Featherstone, but other aspects of their partnership with Rhinos - including access to the champions’ training, medical and coaching facilities - will continue, according to Leeds’ chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Featherstone have already offered Rhinos use of their indoor training base at Big Fellas Stadium - which is also shared with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats - after Leeds’ facilities at Kirkstall were badly damaged in the Boxing Day flood.
Hetherington said: “Next season our support for Hunslet continues in the same way it has for the last several years. The only change is our top 25 players will be dual-registered with Featherstone.
“In addition to our partnership with Hunslet we will have a new partnership with Featherstone Rovers. Featherstone will have a similar arrangement so their players are made available to Hunslet on a dual-registration basis.”
Prop Jordan Baldwinson, who has now returned to Leeds, was named Championship young player of the year in 2015 during a season-long stint with Featherstone.
“Our priority with all our players is their personal development, particularly players in numbers 21-25,” Hetherington said. “The likes of Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jordan Lilley and Josh Walters are still learning and clearly we want them to be playing at the highest-possible level.
“If they are not playing Super League for Leeds Rhinos the Championship provides an excellent environment for players to continue to develop and at the same time they provide excellent service to the club they are playing for.
“Examples are Jimmy Keinhorst, Josh Walters and Rob Mulhern last year. The team they were playing for didn’t win many games, but they were playing in a tough, competitive competition.
“They were put under pressure, playing in front of crowds in games with real meaning to them. The standard of the Championship is getting better, teams are getting better prepared and coached and it is an excellent environment for players to continue their progress.”
Hetherington said players from Rhinos’ academy could still join Hunslet to gain first team experience, if they are judged to be ready.
Of Rovers’ offer to allow Rhinos use of their training facilities, Hetherington said: “It’s kind of them and we will be discussing it this week.”
Rovers coach Jon Sharp welcomed the new agreement.
“Hopefully it’s a partnership that stands the test of time,” Sharp said.
“It will help the development of players and clubs and it’s something we are really keen on doing.
“All three parties are excited about the chance to share ideas and work with one another to try and improve players.
“If we develop players who improve and kick on, that will be great. Leeds are the benchmark and it can only be positive for us.”