Salford Red Devils and Wales Rugby League are celebrating the two-year anniversary of their talent pathway partnership.
Three players joined the reserve squad from the same partnership last season and a further three will be joining the club for the 2023 campaign.
Finley Yates, Billy Walkley and Scott Pritchard already have reserves contracts, with Kieran Lewis and Mason Phillips coming to the trial in November after moving north for university. Connor Lacey has also been signed early, but will remain studying at Coleg Y Cymoedd for two years.
Alongside their rugby league ventures, these players will study at the University of Central Lancashire to ensure a back-up career is available to them. That is run by Reserve team Head Coach, Stuart Wilkinson, who works closely with our sponsors on providing this aftercare.
Joseph Coope-Franklin – who naturally plays in the centre – made his Betfred Super League debut in the final home game of the season against Warrington Wolves.
Coope-Franklin, discussing how he came through the pathway, has said: “Becoming a professional rugby player has always been a dream of mine. Starting my rugby league journey at Coleg y Cymoedd, who had established a partnership with Salford Red Devils, was a great opportunity to make this dream happen.
“Stuart Wilkinson was instrumental in kicking off my rugby league career. He travelled down to Wales numerous times to coach us and teach us the fundamentals of Rugby League. Stuart sparked my love for the game, and it was clear to me that rugby league was the right path to take.
“I was fortunate enough to be selected for Salford Red Devils reserves – this meant moving to the North-West. The move was made even easier with the support of Stuart, great coaches and very welcoming teammates.
“The reserves took my game to the next level, from learning the fundamentals to making my Super League debut. My knowledge and understanding of the game has improved drastically since being in the Red Devils pathway and I highly recommend it to anyone with the same ambitions.”
Ian Blease, director of rugby and operations, added: “Our partnership thus far with Coleg y Cymoedd and the Welsh Rugby League Academy has been an immense success for the Red Devils.
“When myself and Head Coach, Paul Rowley went down to Wales in 2021 for our first training session, we could see immediately the talent and ambition that was already there.
“Through our coaches Stuart Wilkinson – and now Paul Berry – the guidance provided to the players is invaluable. As a club, we have committed contracts with over six players now, with Joseph Coope-Franklin making his Super League debut last season – something that made the club, and I’m sure Joseph’s family very proud.
“My sincere thank you to everyone involved for all your efforts so far in making this partnership flourish and to be the success that it has been up to now. Long may it continue!”.
Mark Jones, Head Coach of the Wales Rugby League National Development Academy at Coleg Y Cymoedd, said: “Our partnership with Salford has flourished over the last two years.
“Coaches from the Super League club have visited us regularly, with Stuart Wilkinson (former Wales men’s side head coach and current Salford reserves head coach) and Paul Berry (current Wales U16 head coach) delivering coaching sessions for both the Coleg Y Cymoedd Rugby League Academy and Origin programmes.
“They have also run continued personal development courses for the Wales Community Coaches. We’re delighted that we’ve had seven players who have signed reserve contracts, with Joseph getting his Super League debut this year.”
With the partnership continuing to grow, everyone in all parties is looking forward to seeing more Welsh-born Super League players turn out for Salford in the near future, as Wales continue to grow their Super League presence ahead of the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.