Promising teenager Will Maher has become the first player to graduate from the Rugby League’s regional academy programme after signing a two-year professional contract with Castleford Tigers.
The towering 18-year-old Cumbrian prop impressed the Tigers’ academy coaching staff while on a player exchange deal in July.
A 12-month loan deal until December 2014 was agreed between Castleford and the Cumbrian Regional Academy in September, but the club has moved to secure a permanent deal to keep him at the Tigers for a further two years after his attitude and approach to training has continued to earn promising reviews.
Tigers’ head of youth performance Pete Riding said: “Will has an exceptional work ethic, a tremendous physique and lots of potential so we’re delighted that he will be with us for the next few years.
“He has been training with the first team since he arrived earlier in the year and he’s impressed all the coaching staff, particularly head coach Daryl Powell, with a number of important attributes.
“We’ve also placed him with the family of one of our directors so that he can integrate further with the club’s culture, which should aid all aspects of his development.
“Will has an opportunity now to kick on from everything that he has learned at the RFL’s Cumbrian Regional Academy and continue to listen and work on his game in a professional Super League environment.”
Maher said: “I’ve enjoyed the last few months that I’ve spent with the club as I’ve been involved in several areas of the first team’s training and learned from some established Super League players.
“I’m pleased to have signed a professional contract with Cas because I feel that I have been given the opportunity to show what I can do, but I know that I now have a platform to continue the hard work and grow into a better player.
“I’m very thankful to all the people at the Cumbrian Regional Academy who have given me a head-start and a chance to earn this deal and I’m also thankful to other people such as Jaine Hart who have helped me since moving to Castleford.”
Chris Chapman, national player development manager at the RFL, said: “We are really pleased for Will and the offer of a full-time contract is well deserved and reflects the hard work and determination he has shown to improve his game.
“This is a great achievement for Will and takes him one step closer on his journey to Super League. It couldn’t happen to a better person and player. Will has worked hard in facets of his game to improve and develop – I am sure he will continue this at Castleford Tigers and develop into a regular member of the first team.
“It reflects the hard work and determination Will has shown since joining Cumbria Regional Academy; this next step on his journey will provide him with further opportunities and I am sure he will tackle these with the same effort and commitment he has already shown.
“Whilst this is an important day for Will in his career it is also an important milestone for the RFL Regional Academies with our first player to progress to a Super League club. We have a number of players with a great work ethic, positive attitude and physical and football ability and I believe it will only be a matter of time before other players progress and join Will at a Super League club.
“We have come a long way since November 2011 when we launched the regional academies and I must take this opportunity to thank all the staff who work tirelessly and give up their time to support the players and England regional performance coaches based in the regions.
“It’s a proud day for us all and will certainly motivate all the staff and players within the three regions (Cumbria, Midlands and North East) to keep working hard and progressing.”