Two graduates from Coleg y Cymoedd’s National Development Academy, run in partnership with the Welsh Rugby League and the Salford Red Devils, have kickstarted their dreams of playing rugby professionally after securing contracts with the Super League team.
Joe Coope-Franklin, 21, and Billy Walkley, 18, have been awarded shirts on the Salford Red Devils’ first team squad for the 2023 season.
They are the first players from the Academy to break into the Red Devils’ Super League team since it was set up just over two years ago.
Joe, from Oakdale, initially joined the Salford reserves’ squad in 2021 and has already made his Super League debut, having appeared in Salford’s final game of last season. The centre now wears shirt number 29.
Billy, a half-back or full-back from Caerphilly, joined Salford’s U18s team in 2021 and was in the reserves last year, finally being awarded shirt number 30 for the first squad this season. He has also been a Wales U17 and U19 international, having played in last year’s European Championships, and was named in the Wales Rugby League Team of the Year for 2022.
Joe said: “Being selected for the Salford Red Devils’ first-team full-time is a great achievement and something I have been aiming towards since I started training at Coleg y Cymoedd.
“Becoming a professional rugby player has always been a dream of mine and being part of the Rugby League Academy at Cymoedd, which had an established partnership with the Salford Red Devils, helped to make that dream happen.
“While at the Academy, Stuart Wilkinson, Head Coach at the Red Devils, travelled down to Wales numerous times to coach us and teach us the fundamentals of Rugby League. He sparked my love for the game and made it clear to me that it was the path I wanted to take. With the help of the Coleg y Cymoedd and the Salford coaches, my ambition to be a professional rugby league player has come around sooner than I thought.”
Billy added: “I’m thankful for the opportunity given to me to join the first team which I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the support I received from Coleg y Cymoedd’s Development Academy. The Academy benefitted my rugby league understanding and skills and opened up the door for me to join the reserves team, which really took my game to the next level and helped me get to where I am now.”
Hosted at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus, the Wales Rugby League National Development Academy is the only Rugby Football League officially accredited dual academy in Wales.
The Academy offers aspiring rugby players elite coaching from the Salford Red Devils, Wales Rugby League and Cymoedd’s expert team of coaches, while also enabling them to study a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in sport. Players at the academy split their time between practical training and academic studies, learning about a variety of topics including sports nutrition, sports injuries, fitness testing, match officiating, anatomy, and physiology. It also provides learners with a direct pathway to achieve their dreams of playing in the Super League.
Ian Blease, director of rugby and operations at the Salford Red Devils, said: “Our partnership with Coleg y Cymoedd and the Welsh Rugby League Academy has been an immense success for the Red Devils so far.
“When the head coach, Paul Rowley, and I, went down to Wales in 2021 for our first training session, we could immediately see the talent and ambition that was already there. I share my sincere thanks to everyone involved for all their efforts so far in making this partnership flourish and become the success that it has been up to now – long may it continue.
“As the partnership continues to grow, everyone across all parties involve is looking forward to seeing more Welsh-born Super League players come through the WRL Development Academy at Coley y Cymoedd, especially as we leadup to the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.”
For more information on the academy, visit https://www.cymoedd.ac.uk/en/course/35631/level-3-in-sport-rugby-league
Rhondda Cynon Taff
Heol y Coleg
Rhondda Cynon Taff