Wales Rugby League are delighted that Billy Walkley and Joe Coope-Franklin, two of their National Development Academy Graduates, have been awarded first-team squad shirt numbers at Salford Red Devils for their 2023 Super League season.
WRL are partnered with Salford and Coleg Y Cymoedd, who host the Academy, and these two players are the first to break into the Red Devils’ Super League squad since the partnership was set up just over two years ago.
Coope-Franklin, a 21-year-old centre from Oakdale, starting his rugby league with Coleg y Cymoedd in the WRL National Development Academy and has already made his Super League debut, appearing in Salford’s final game of last season. He initially joined the Salford reserves’ squad in 2021 and will wear shirt number 29 in 2023.
Walkley, an 18-year-old half-back or full-back from Caerphilly, came through the junior ranks at Aber Valley Wolves in Caerphilly and is a Wales U17 and U19 international, playing in last year’s European Championships and was named in the Wales Rugby League Team of the Year for 2022. He joined Salford U18s in 2021, was in the reserves last year and has been awarded shirt number 30.
Both players have been playing in Salford’s reserves side, as well as studying and playing for the University of Central Lancashire.
Coope-Franklin said: “Being selected to train with the Salford Red Devils first-team full-time is a great achievement and something I have been aiming towards since I started training for the reserves.
“The reserves set-up has benefitted my rugby league understanding and skills. With the help of Stuart Wilkinson and the rest of the reserves’ coaches, my ambitions to be a professional rugby league player has come around sooner than I thought.
“The move up north was made easier by the support of UCLAN, where I have developed as a rugby league player too. Thank you to Paul Rowley for giving me this opportunity and I hope to take full advantage of it.”
Walkley added: “I am thankful for the opportunity given to me to join the first team.
“The help from Stuart Wilkinson in the reserves and UCLAN, have made this move up north much easier for me, which allowed me to just be myself and perform throughout pre-season with confidence.”
Mark Jones, WRL general manager and head of the National Development Academy, said: “When we originally set up the tri-partnership with Coleg Y Cymoedd, Salford Red Devils and Wales Rugby League, our aspirations were to build a stronger base of players for our international pathways.
“The fantastic news is that in such a short space of time, Joe and Billy are signing full-time Super League contracts with Salford, and that has surpassed all of our targets. We would like to thank all the staff from Salford, Coleg Y Cymoedd and Wales Rugby League who have worked tirelessly to make this partnership a success.
“However, most of the credit must go to Billy and Joe, who have fully committed themselves on and off the field to ensure that they succeeded. They deserve all the success that is coming to them. This amazing news is proof that dreams do come true. We now look forward to more of our players that are in Salford Reserves and the REDS programme breaking through to Super League.”
If you are a Year 11 boy or girl who wants to be part of a full-time Rugby League Academy in Coleg Y Cymoedd please apply using the link https://www.cymoedd.ac.uk/course-detail/?course=08302B