COVENTRY BEARS are entering their fourth season in League 1 – the third tier of the professional game – which is a great achievement for a club founded just 20 years ago.
The vast majority of big clubs still lie in the north of England and that is where the pool of playing talent has always been found.
However, all that is changing as exciting pathways are being opened up across Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands.
The Bears have a focused strategy on developing talent from the region, rather than relying on ‘imports’ from the north who cannot commit to regular training.
This is seen as crucial, not just for the continued success of the club but for the sport as a whole.
Sitting immediately beneath the Bears are amateur side Coventry Dragons, who will be playing in the London Premier League.
Then in Warwickshire there are Leamington Royals, in Birmingham the Bulldogs and the NEW Ravens in the Redditch area.
University links are also in place, particularly at Coventry University with an established scholarship scheme.
For youngsters, the Bears are active across the city with more than 2,500 participating at grassroots level.
Meanwhile, over in Pershore, the Black Swans are a newly launched junior Rugby League club with strong links to the Bears.
The Midlands Hurricanes now provide training and opportunities at four locations across the Midlands.
Bears chief executive Alan Robinson told the Observer: “We have a young team on the pitch committed to this area, whether living here or studying here.
“Already some of our players have gained international honours at student level and the future looks better still, but we know it will take time.
“Already a youngster can start at Pershore, maybe then join the Hurricanes, play for the Dragons or Ravens or even attend university here and keep playing.
“This, with our community work, will keep our club growing and improving over the next decade.”
The pathway does not have to end with the Bears, because the Bears have now forged links with Castleford Tigers, one of the greatest teams in Super League.
Coventry Bears’ next home game is a fourth round Challenge Cup tie at Butts Park Arena against Pilkington Recs on Sunday, March 18.