It has been interesting to note the number of young players agreeing new contracts at Tigers, from academy graduates to development squad renewals and some newcomers at the ‘junior’ end of the age range too.
They also confirmed the names of the prospects staying on after academy graduation and the a list of teenagers stepping into senior company as development players as well as another five who have earned a fresh contract at that level.
That is a lot of activity around young talent at Welford Road.
Having previous graduates of the standard of Tom Croft, Dan Cole, Matt Smith, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs and club captain Tom Youngs – who between them have made more than 1,000 first-team appearances – sets the bar at an incredibly high level for the club’s academy and its recruits.
There has been criticism over the years about losing academy graduates to other Premiership clubs after seeing their route to regular first-team rugby blocked, but there appears to have been a re-set and the last couple of seasons have heralded the emergence of another strong generation led by Ben White, Joe Heyes, Jordan Olowofela, Harry Simmons, Tommy Reffell, Sam Lewis, Tom Hardwick and George Worth.
The academy’s incredible hat-trick of Under-18 League titles has seen another group in their wake, including Steward, Browning and Law who had experience of those victories.
The Tig recalls seeing Steward and Browning scoring tries in League Final wins, while Law and fellow scrum-half Jack Van Poortvliet have joined them in gaining age-group recognition with England. The young second row George Martin is another.
There are more, too – Thom Smith, Henri Lavin and Taylor Gough all played in the first league win and recently agreed new terms at the club – who have had a taste of senior rugby and continue to earn their stripes at Premiership Shield level and on loan elsewhere to gain senior rugby experience.
The next step is the mightiest of all, of course, the one that takes a player from age-group front-runner to making the grade in at first-team level, having to face up to international big names every day in training while also developing physically and mentally in the context of top-flight competition.
They need only look to Cole, Tuilagi and the Youngs boys, or to their immediate predecessors like White and Olowofela, to see the standard required but also where that path could lead in future.
As well as the work on the pitch, they will also have come through this strangest of all seasons, coping with distancing from their training ground comfort zone and the suspension of games they have been looking forward to all year. If they use their time wisely and come back even hungrier for the experience, the future could be bright for them and their colleagues.