The RFL Regional Academy programme has produced its first Super League player after 18-year-old Will Maher signed a two-year professional contract with Castleford Tigers.
Maher’s signing is a great success for the RFL Regional Academy initiative which was launched only two years ago when three selected geographical areas – Cumbria, the Midlands and the North East – opened their doors to under-15 and under-16 players.
The Academies, which have been developed in regions where there is no Super League or professional club with the capacity to develop a player development pathway, run under-16 and under-18 sides and now have 55 players registered players on apprenticeship terms.
The first apprentices were taken on in 2012, with Maher – who attended the Cumbria Regional Academy – being one of the original group.
RFL Director of Performance and Coaching Jon Roberts believes it is the start of an exciting era that will see many more of young Academy players follow in Maher’s path.
“This is a great achievement for Will and reflects the hard work and determination he has shown since joining Cumbria Regional Academy,” said Roberts.
“This next step on his journey will provide him with further opportunities and I am sure he will tackle these with the same effort and commitment he has already shown.
“Whilst this is an important day for Will in his career, it is also an important milestone for the RFL Regional Academies with our first player to progress to a Super League or a Championship or Championship One club.
“We have a number of players with a great work ethic, positive attitude and physical and football ability and I believe it will only be a matter of time before other players progress and join Will at aprofessional club.”
“We have been progressing well since November 2011 when we launched the Regional Academies and I must take this opportunity to thank all the staff who work tirelessly and give up their time to support the players and England Regional Performance Coaches.”
As one of the stand-out talents in the Cumbria Regional Academy Maher, who stands at 6ft 8in tall, was spotted by Castleford Tigers and invited to join the club on a season-long loan.
Since joining the club in September, it did not take long for his potential to be realised by Castleford who offered the young forward a two-year full-time contract.
“We are really pleased for Will and the offer of a full-time contract is well deserved and reflects the hard work and determination he has shown to improve his game, we hope that other players from the three Academies will be motivated more by this the progression of the first player.” said Roberts.