A BRADFORD rugby club are offering their older teenage players a ‘bonus’ season for those who lost out due to Covid-19 restrictions and have recruited professional rugby players to help spread the word.

Birkenshaw Blue Dogs Rugby League Club, who play in East Bierley, are giving youngsters an extra opportunity for a season of training and matches despite their youth league officially ending last year.

The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting community rugby league in 2021, but there are hopes the season can be back up and running in April or May.

With that goal in mind, Birkenshaw's official development officer, Bolu Fagborun, who played professional rugby for Huddersfield, Sheffield and Nigeria, is encouraging 16 to 18-year-olds to take the chance to continue their training and sign up for further seasons.

During a live webinar hosted last week by the club for current and potential players, Fagborun and Leeds Rhinos legend Chev Walker shared their experiences with around 30 local teenagers on why continuing club involvement through their late teens was so valuable to their professional development.

Fagborun explained: “Our players have been robbed of the chance to play a full season (in 2020) with their team-mates and we think they deserve another shot.

“When players reach Under-18s level, it can be hard to keep them involved with the club when they have so many other distractions. But this really is a key year in their development as players and people.

“Between U16s and U18s, the number of teams in Yorkshire roughly decreases by around 50 per cent, so Birkenshaw Blue Dogs are looking for boys in this age range who want another chance to prove their abilities in rugby league or just to get fit and make friends.

“Apart from the obvious health benefits, playing team sports leads to some great life skills which players benefit from throughout their lives.

“Employers are interested in what people do outside of work and involvement in a club like this impresses them, as being part of a team demonstrates that you’re a committed, active and well-rounded individual.

“There is also a lot of talent in our team and players who we believe could go even further in the game if they continue their training, developing the physicality they need to compete with men playing professionally.

“We were enjoying a really good year before we were hit by the restrictions so are looking forward to continuing that success once the Yorkshire Junior League resumes play.”

Attendees of the webinar heard how Fagborun returned to U18s rugby after playing professional rugby at 16 to help his physical maturity, and it provided opportunities for him to be spotted again by club scouts.

Fagborun added: “Turning 18 as part of a close-knit club like Birkenshaw Blue Dogs would be fantastic. It’s a great chance to make memories that last a lifetime.”

Walker, a former player and current assistant coach for Leeds Rhinos, and ambassador for Birkenshaw Blue Dogs, advised attendees to take the chance to keep playing and remember why they love rugby.

He said: “I’m proud to be the father of two junior Blue Dogs players who are part of a club which not only teaches rugby skills and offers professional opportunities, but also teaches good morals and helps create well-rounded people.

“It is a great feeling to have those in the junior ranks look up to you and throughout my career, I have learned that you don’t need to be in a professional environment to feel like you’ve succeeded.”

Anybody interested in signing up to Birkenshaw Blue Dogs should contact U18s coaches Dan West on 07931 376624 or Steve Housecroft on 07969 118527.

Birkenshaw Blue Dogs have 24 qualified coaches and 50 match day volunteers who oversee teams ranging from the U6s to U17s and open age/masters.

They started with just six members in 2009 and now have around 200 members who attend the club on a regular basis.

For more information, visit https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/birkenshawrugby or https://www.ebcsa.co.uk