All Golds preparing to make move into professional ranks
WITH the rugby league season winding to a close, the University of Gloucestershire All Golds are turning their attentions to the most important period in their history so far.
Not since the sport's birth in 1895, during Queen Victoria's reign, has an academic institution owned a professional team with their own academy.
From the early beginnings of the late 1990s, the University of Gloucestershire rugby league club have progressed through the leagues.
In 2008 they were offered a rugby league franchise to participate in the highest student division, which they have retained ever since.
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However, in 2013 the University of Gloucestershire All Golds will embark upon the next leg of their journey when they enter the professional ranks for the first time.
The University of Gloucestershire All Golds consist of six different sides, with the top team entering Co-op Championship One when the season starts in March.
The division is two levels below the Super League, meaning back-to-back promotions would ensure a place among the country's elite clubs such as Wigan, Leeds and St Helens.
It is the equivalent level of Cinderford in rugby union's National One or Swindon Town's League One in football.
The All Golds will compete against two of the sport's most famous teams, Oldham and Rochdale Hornets, alongside Gateshead Thunder, London Skolars, South Wales Scorpions, North Wales Crusaders, Hemel Hempstead Stags and Oxford.
This year has seen the All Golds' senior team defeat Super League clubs London Broncos, Widnes Vikings and Salford City Reds in the Rugby League 9s series.
All Golds' spokesman Rob Webber said that the team are always on the search for new talented players as they make their first foray into professional sport.
He said: "Gloucestershire is full of gifted athletes and we are asking them to make contact urgently with a view to being considered for a professional contract.
"It is vital to stress that the professional club is open to everyone and is not a student-only side."
Below the Championship One side are the two teams that will compete in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) National leagues, namely the All Blues and the All Golds.
The All Golds will play in the Super 6 National League while the All Blues will take part in the Regional Wales and West Division.
Naturally, only people who study at the University of Gloucestershire can play for either of these teams.
The University of Gloucestershire are also looking for top rugby players who can ultimately be offered rugby scholarships to further their playing careers with the BUCS teams.
The student squad reached the national semi-finals in the BUCS Championship this year.
Current All Gold and England Universities international Sam Blaney is delighted with his recent transfer to Gloucestershire.
He said: "The formulation of the University of Gloucestershire All Golds gives players the opportunity to play the sport at a professional level whilst studying in higher education, thus giving a niche pathway through which players can better themselves."
With one eye on the future, the All Golds launched their own junior academy in April consisting of three sides.
All three teams are open to any youngster in the county regardless of which school they attend, be it in the state or private sector.
The academy runs teams at under-18, under-16 and under-14 level, all feeding into the professional Championship One team.
This year the academy sides won the Midlands Championship at under-16 level, were finalists at under-18 level and were unbeaten at under-14 level.
The Championship One and academy squads will compete from March to October while the Student (BUCS) squads will compete from October to March, leaving no month of the year without competition.