21st August 2017


Andy Kelly gives a season review of the Giants youth teams

Foster Care

If you look at the Academy and the Scholarship as a whole in terms of results then you would say we’ve been disappointing at times this season. The wins that the Academy achieved we would have expected, in terms of our aspirations maybe we would have expected more but the boys have performed indifferently at times.

We then have to look at how they have developed as people and next year will be more indicative of how strong they have become or are going to be as an Academy player and what individuals we will get progressing towards our Super League side from that crop of players.

With the Scholarship I don’t really look at the results as the definitive indicator of a player’s success on the pathway. We came up with no victories in the games that we played, we were competitive in some and we were completely outclassed in others. But they are right at the beginning of their development process so we shouldn’t get too stressed about Scholarship results at this stage.

I think we have got some good kids in the Scholarship who will thrive. The inclusion of Dave Gibbons in the England Youth squad to play against France is very positive especially initially having had Alfie Schultz and Sean Slater in that squad before it was cut down to the final squad that will travel.

It is a good measure that only Leeds and Wigan had more players in that England Youth squad than we did at that particular time. There is a good indication there that we have got the right players, we just need to keep developing them at the right pace. Results-wise it was disappointing but in terms of the players we’ve got and how they are coming along it’s much better.

Looking at the Academy side, I know I’m going to miss some out because there are so many I could name, but you’ve got to look at Josh Pinder,  Louis and Innes Senior, Jack Flynn, Lucas Hallas, Alfie Copley and Ross Whitmore who are first years in the Senior Academy who have played a large number of games through 2017. That will really stand them in good stead for the future as second years with the new first years coming in.

I think as part of their development journey that is really important that they have gained so much experience, if we were to have a fixed mindset and focused success only on games won then we would just sign all third years, opt for a very physically mature Academy. We would then win more games but not necessarily produce any more players or players that are ready to be challenged when they go to the next level.

That is how we can look at and assess our defeats and still find some positives as we have got players who have been able to find a challenge, experience it and progress from it. I’m confident that the Academy is going in the right direction and that the results will start to marry up to the system itself.

I’m really pleased with the progression we have started to see from the Academy with Luke Robinson as the Head Coach. He’s had to develop and learn quickly! He’s come straight out of the dressing room as a first-team player into an environment where you’ve got a three age group mix and it is difficult.

Development Coaching is not like Performance Coaching in some respects because of the variations in skill, maturity and physicality. There are some very different parameters around Academy football and I think Luke has come to terms with what is required and done a great job with the U19’s towards the back end of the season.

I think the players have come to understand what he wants from them and what he wants from them is a higher calibre and this bodes well for the future as we continue to strive for improvement.

The future is looking bright for the Giants youth with plenty going on over the next few months. We’re hoping to announce some retentions in the coming few months, we’ve got a couple of lads going into third year so we’ll be announcing them in the next few weeks.

We’ve got our new Academy players starting pre-season who we introduced to the John Smith’s Stadium crowd at the Warrington Wolves match. The lads who are going into their third year having done possibly a four year journey at the Giants so far with us and now going into their fifth year hoping for a chance to make Rick Stone’s Super League squad.

The boys haven’t got much time off. They’ve only just finished and are back at the beginning of September. They’ll be back in for a month and they’ll start to work hard in preparation for the next season. The season begins much sooner than the fixture schedule for the players and we know there is a lot of hard work that we need to implement before the new season comes around.

I think one of the great successes of the Academy over the past twelve months has been the number of players that are either now in or around the first-team squad. With Rick Stone and Chris Thorman at the helm we’ve had a real buy-in to the quality of the Academy players that we’re producing and we’ve seen quite a few of them feature in the pre-season friendlies with Matty English also making his Super League debut this year.

We’re encouraged by that and the players in the Academy are excited. We’ve got a good number of players, I don’t want to single anyone out as they’ll all have different seasons next year and things may change, but there are some key people in there that will do well for next year.

We just want to keep on improving. Improving our players, improving our system, the Coaches so that we’re always on the lookout for staff and the Scholarship staff will get a fresh look next year. I’m just excited about next year, every year excites me with the purpose of improvement driving us on.

There have been a fair few highlights through the year but personally I think the Under 19’s home and away wins against Leeds were fantastic efforts. The win away from home was done in some atrocious weather conditions and the players battled out for eighty minutes to win in the final seconds of the game with a long range never say die effort.

At home, in totally contrasting weather conditions, at Lockwood Park the players outplayed Leeds, who came with a very strong team, so we know the quality is there we just have to make it consistent.

I think the highlight for the Scholarship is seeing players progress from Year 11 to first year Academy players. We’ve taken ten players from our own Scholarship this year into professional rugby league and that has got to be a highlight.

Finally, I’d like to thank the continued support from all the volunteer Coaches, scouting (TID) team, the lads who do kit, record/film the games and last but not least the parents. We have so many volunteers involved in Scholarship and Academy football and I greatly respect them because I don’t think we could function without them. When we see success on the field and we see players graduating, there are some hard working people who are not so obvious but who are as big a part of that journey and are just as proud as anyone else, so I would like to thank them for all their hard-work this season as it is very much appreciated.



Heikki Kovalainen




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