Hull Kingston Rovers head of youth John Bastian on ‘sadness, frustration and anger’ of elite academy licence loss

John Bastian has spoken of the disappointment and anger felt at Hull Kingston Rovers in the week since the club found out they would be losing elite academy status barely a year after re-establishing their own youth set-up.

From 2016 to 2019, Rovers and cross-city rivals Hull FC ran a joint City of Hull Academy team, but last year returned to individual in-house set-ups. Yet while the Black and Whites were one of 10 teams awarded a licence for 2022 to 2027 last week, Rovers saw their application rejected along with four other clubs.

It was a decision that sent shockwaves through East Hull and while Rovers will still be able to run a youth set-up within the college league structure, head of youth Bastian underlined the importance of having an elite set-up and his biggest concern is the effect this decision will have on the area’s young players.

“That’s been the hardest thing, having to tell the kids there is a chance we unfortunately won’t have an academy anymore and if we do have a pathway it’ll be different to the one we’ve got at the moment and not the elite pathway, which they signed up for,” Bastian told Sky Sports. “It’s a lot of disappointment, a lot of sadness, a lot of frustration and a lot of anger as well.

“Ultimately [with an elite academy], you get more time with them to prepare them, get to understand them and get to know them. A lot it is getting to understand them as people and their characteristics, and then you can start fine-tuning their characteristics.

“I often say an average player can become a good player and a good player can become a very good player, as long as they’ve got the right attributes to make a difference and a strong work ethic. Ultimately, they’re the key things we work on at Hull Kingston Rovers.”

Bastian, a highly regarded coach who arrived at Hull College Craven Park with a wealth of experience from spells overseeing the youth set-ups at Warrington Wolves, Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls, had overseen the rebuilding of Rovers’ youth system from scratch.

Back with a BANG. 💥

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In nine months, he and his team including reserve-grade coach Kevin Deighton, former City of Hull coach Jason Netherton and ex-Rovers player Ben Cockayne had put in place structures for the U16s, U18s and reserve sides.

Bastian praised his staff for the work they did in keeping the players engaged while academy and scholarship rugby league was shut down during 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with those involved in the wider community in the city who have done much to boost participation numbers.

Since 2018, registered player numbers at junior level have increased from 1,513 to 2,159 and with an area’s talent pool and how clubs are helping to grow that being one of the criteria in the licencing process, and Bastian is in no doubt there are enough players in the city to support two elite academies.

“If Hull FC hadn’t got a licence, I’d have been the first to phone up [Hull FC academy director] Danny Wilson and say I was absolute distraught for him because there are enough players in our city to have two professional pathways,” Bastian said.

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Part of that is down to the people and finance from Hull KR

Not perfect but going in the right direction.

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“But we have to work hard with what we’ve got. In general, rugby league has a small talent pool in comparison to other sports and we’ve always had to work hard with our numbers.

“But to take away some of our talent pools we’ve got, not to offer those opportunities to players and not give them the opportunity to get through on that professional pathway, for me that’s kicking the game hard.

“Hopefully, everybody will get together and recognise the importance of the community game, the importance of these professional clubs linking into the community game, and we’ll be able to create a pathway for those young players who deserve the opportunity to be part of the professional game.”

Hull KR, along with Castleford Tigers, have already signalled their intention to appeal to Sports Resolutions against the decision not to award them an elite licence and the club have the backing of East Hull MP Karl Turner, who has written to sports minister Nigel Huddlestone expressing his objections.

Whatever the outcome of the appeal, Bastian and Rovers have plans in place to develop their pathway to the first team for younger players. But having to wait for the next round of licencing to apply will affect their ability to bring through Super League players.

“The reason they gave six-year licences out is because development is a slow process and we have to be patient with development,” Bastian said. “By taking away our elite licence, it will slow that process up enormously. It will take several years to get that back and to get everybody’s confidence back.

“This area is steeped in tradition when it comes to community clubs and players from our community being involved at Hull Kingston Rovers.

“We’ve been given very little time to prepare and I guarantee in three or four years’ time we will be producing Super League players at Hull Kingston Rovers – but we need the opportunity to do that and so do the community players within our constituency of Hull.”

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