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Broncos face usual battles on and off the field

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George Riley George Riley | 09:52 UK time, Thursday, 8 March 2012

Relaunched and rebranded but running on empty...London Broncos' second coming has scarcely drawn a second glance.

Despite a huge summer of rebuilding, an array of impressive recruits and an encouraging opening against St Helens, London's travails just won't go away.

Sparking life into the fortunes of the capital's rugby league club was never going to be as simple as binning the Harlequins branding - but the opening month of Super League has hit London hard.

Last weekend's 44-12 thumping by Salford was a fifth successive defeat for Rob Powell's side, whose very Super League future was under threat amid poor attendances and financial upheaval in the run-up to last year's licence renewal.

The sole new Super League side, Widnes, are the only club below London this year and the Broncos' young coach Powell admits the dressing room at Salford last weekend was the quietest he had ever experienced. Full-back Luke Dorn told me that when the coach asked for their post-match feedback, no-one said a word.

"Powelly said his piece and then gave us the opportunity to respond. None of us did. No-one felt it was their place to speak up, we were too shocked and nobody was in the mood. Maybe this is us missing Rob Purdham who would have stood up. We knew nothing we said would have made any difference. We've done plenty of talking in the days since."

Olsi Krasniqi of London Broncos celebrates after scoring a try during the Super League match against St Helens at Twickenham Stoop. Photo: Getty

So what has gone wrong? Losing their captain and talisman Purdham has been massive, but even Rob told me he was gutted to be leaving a new-look squad which he rates as stronger than any assembled during his 10 years at the club.

Even after that opening home defeat to Saints, there was a buzz of expectancy among a much-improved gate of 5,000. I watched the new halfback pair of Craig Gower and Michael Witt run rings around Saints' impressive youngsters and left The Stoop confident they would be okay.

This time last year I was hailing Harlequins' hot start of four wins in five. So what's going on? When a club like London struggle like this, the critics queue up to sound the death knell. Some are even asking why we need London in Super League. What do they offer?

If you ask Purdham, a loyal servant to rugby league in the capital, or Leeds coach Brian McDermott, who spent years fighting the fight as Quins head coach, you will get an emphatic answer. "That squad has so much London talent coming through and when I first started there wasn't any," Purdham tells me.

His argument is that if there were no Super League club for London youth to aspire to, then the game may never have developed a Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, a Will Sharp or a Dan Sarginson. The former two are now earning the bigger bucks at Saints and Hull FC having been developed in London, while Sarginson can be a real star if he fulfils his potential and fills out his frame.

Purdham argues that if you take Super League from London, you will just drain another growing talent pool, the development of which is largely down to the tireless work of the Broncos and London Skolars' community staff. In short, it is easy to knock the London project without delving right down from the Super League surface to the grass roots to see its commitment to the rugby league cause.

Dorn is angry that every time London lose a few matches, the critics pounce with the same old judgements. "We feel an extra burden of expectancy because of the pathetic 'I told you so' mentality of some 'experts'," he says. "The older guard like me, Chad (Randall), Powelly and the chairman all feel it because we hear it so often.

"I really don't like the waiting for us to fail. We go on the pitch knowing we are playing for more than just points in the League. We play every week to prove our value to the competition and no other club has that burden. We feel we have to go the extra mile because every time we struggle we have to listen to the same garbage. It is not nice to hear people saying you shouldn't be in Super League purely on location."

Speaking of struggling teams, St Helens themselves have wobbled badly since that London win, but it would be a brave man to paint a similar picture of doom on the spanking new gates of Langtree Park.

The perennial Grand Final runners-up have now gone three games without a win, prompting coach Royce Simmons to cancel the players' day off on Tuesday and haul them into training. One Saints player told me that they were going through a "really tough time" at the moment and were struggling to find any direction within games.

I have no doubt Saints will be absolutely fine and no doubt London will still have their critics whether their fortunes improve or not.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good article as always George, but I'm sure those also "working tirelessly" to enthuse youngsters toward League rather than Yawnion at clubs like St Albans and Hemel will be somewhat offended at your narrow view in this direction.

  • Comment number 2.

    Broncos home form's been ok, with defeat against two decent sides. Im fully expecting a win against Cas on Saturday and for the season to turn around soon enough as the new look team gels defensively. There are thousands and thousands of RL fans in the south east who don't go to Broncos games, not only are they missing out on a great game day experience, they're threatening the future of top level RL in London by staying away.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm sure they'll start winning and when they do I'm sure they'll get the fans back. It's still early days so i think we should judge them after a few more rounds. Look where Leeds were this time last year or where Wigan were a few years ago.
    It doesn't take much to turn a team around and if they do have a good pool of youngsters then I'm sure we'll see a strong London side before too long.

  • Comment number 5.

    London Broncos and their supporters have to take no notice of the Luddite who is proud that he declared in 2007 and now in March 2012 what is the point of a London Club and what part do they play.

    There is no doubt the current form of the London Broncos is a concern, after such an encouraging start to this season against St Helens and a much better attendance, but the playing record then after has not encourage the new supporters to attend. I still feel that the rookie coach Rob Powell needs someone to work with him for a few season's, I'm not sure that at his age he is going to currently lift the changing room mentality.

    London youth rugby league is developing as well if not much better than some parts of the northern heartland, these are the players that need to be attracted to see the Broncos as their Club. But I feel it may take the next stage of the cut from the Harlequins link to ever achieve this, it has clearly not worked this time around and it was right to change the name back, whatever a small minority of support may still think.

    The Rugby League must get fully behind London Broncos the attendance at Wembley for the Test Match was superb and it was proven that a good majority came from the South, but then no major game has been given to London in the World Cup? At times I am at a loss how the RFL work, like the Stobart sponsorship. People should get a solid gold badge if they see a sponsored truck! The new media guy who worked for Manchester City should be based in London for a period.

    If we do not grasp and fully support London and we take the closed door mentality of one writer who has the audacity to suggest that all the young talent coming through in London could play for The Skolars and then move North to play Super League, I predict we will end up going back to be a Northern game and semi pro!

  • Comment number 6.

    Poster#5, I've seen 3 and live in South Wales! They've been seen in roads all over the UK including the M74 north of the border and the M4 in deepest darkest southern England. As the idea is to increase exposure across the country, it's a great deal, especially as all the trucks aren't even on the roads yet. The money lost from the Betfair deal is actually being recovered from other sponsorship deals such as Heinz, Elonex, Iron Bru etc, something which the Betfair deal wouldn't have allowed. It is a novel strategy by the RFL but a good one as it gives the game some nationwide exposure it could only dream about before!

    As for London, they'll improve and I'm sure will get a number of wins. Crowds are disappointing but that isn't surprising since they hardly ever win. If and when they start to compete and win consistently, the crowds will grow.

    The development work, not just in London, but over all non-heartland areas is fantastic. The Midlands region will be starting the season with 80 teams competiting at all levels, which is a great number. London I expect is similar, if not higher. A huge congratulations and well done goes out to all the Development Officers and volunteers who are making this happen. As RL has only really been a proper opportunity to develop UK wide since 1995, this is a great effort, epitomised by the introduction of Northampton and Hemel Stags to Championship 1 in 2013, plus two other non-heartland based sides.

    The future is bright!

  • Comment number 7.

    Some great work going on in London - but they need their own home where they can put roots down, the Skolars have more roots than the Broncos - get that sorted then the future really would be good...

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm sure all the positive comments above are true. However the Broncos/Quins are given special treatment that their performance in ~10 years in Super League don't justify. They have always been a poor team, towards or at the bottom of the table. Their team has often been full of journeyman Aussies or older players from the M62 corridor. I'm not sure now if the Broncos have to obey the rules on British or even home grown players. The Broncos special treatment being allowed to go bust some years ago without penalty was shocking. I think they would be better following the Crusaders into a lower division and then trying to build from there. Certainly their attendances are more like a Div One side and they would win more at that level. The Welsh experiment is over, so should the London one!

  • Comment number 9.

    The pool of young talent in London and the efforts being made by a broad base of junior clubs to exploit it, are unstinting, as any RL supporter in the South East will testify. Performances at the Broncos will improve and given time local talent will come though strongly but, the question of crowds will continue to be a bugbear. Fundamentally, RL doesn't sit well in West London, it would be best placed in East London where the population is, bluntly, less middle class and not so ingrained in Rugby Union and where in any event there's no major Union team to compete for an audience within 30 miles or more. Even the Union sides in and around London (other than Quins) struggle to gain an audience, their fans support the National side not Club sides. RL needs to find a new and non traditional audience from the East of London. Quality product & marketing, convenient location and keen pricing will do the trick.

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm a Widnes and London are my second team (I like Catalans too). I know a lot of the 'rugby league is a northern game' luddites may shout the loudest but I think you'll find that there are a lot like me who love seeing the game outside it's traditional boundaries. I think the efforts at grass roots level will bear fruit in years to come. Keep up the hard work.

  • Comment number 11.

    I don’t praise them very often, but thankfully the RFL has got some things right over the years.

    The first one is preventing people with views such as comment 8 from getting anywhere near the development and expansion plans for Rugby League.

    The second is supporting clubs such as the Catalans. This is a club from an area with a proud and great Rugby League heritage, but, who were in need of a leg up. The arrangement is one with benefits on both sides. The Catalans and French RL have been supported by the RFL and Super League providing them with the security they need to develop a strong core over time (time is very important, these things cannot be rushed) and look to provide a solid and extensive base of young French players all over the south of France which can support a top tier club into the future.

    Those French players then go on to provide a better French outfit to play against the home nations or GB, whichever happens to be in existence at that time, which makes internationals between them more competitive. The French teams have always had excellent talent – robust forwards and skilful backs – but haven’t had strength in depth, something the home nations might recognise when they pit themselves against Australian teams, and this way they can try to put that right. The RFL have got this very right indeed.

    The third is supporting clubs such as the London Broncos. The Broncos are based in an area which is traditionally dominated by football and the other code of rugby, but over more recent history, although we are talking over 30 years now, there has been a sizeable want for rugby league in this region. Because of their situation they are also in need of a helping hand. The RFL has supported the Broncos and rugby league in London and provided them with some security needed to do exactly as I have depicted above, but this time the benefits to the RFL are different and much more direct.

    The south east is a highly populated area and by having a Super League club in London they are giving rugby league a massive opportunity to grow. It allows kids to play it, and fans, whether new or established, to go see it. And it opens up rugby league to a very south-centric, football and union focused, English media too. Again, growth isn’t going to be overnight. But London has been holding its own for a good while now, in spite of the naysayers who get a nose bleed any further south than Sheffield. And as George says in his blog we have started to see some very rich talent come through the ranks and that has huge benefits directly to London teams, and to the home nations teams. And the more talent London produces, the more the Broncos will prosper in Super League and the more the word will spread. The RFL have got this so right I can’t believe it was actually them.

    Where the RFL hasn’t proved wise is in its involvement in the Welsh Super League team. Like the Catalans team, a south Wales club is sat in an area steeped in rugby league heritage. They should have been better supported, and given more time to grow sufficient roots to stabilise a top tier club. I don’t think it would’ve taken long to do either.

    As John Dixon pointed out his youth squads, from U9’s right through, were winning everything and looking incredibly strong. When you are drawing on a talent pool such as that you stand a very good chance of not just survival, but prosperity. And given the opportunity to see a south Wales team with local players I think the crowds would have started to increase. Moving to Wrexham, despite its obvious support in that area, was a mistake.

    Rugby League needs its outposts and those doing the sterling work in those areas should have praised heaped on them. What it doesn’t need is any more negativity aimed in their direction.

    Long live rugby league in London.

    (a northerner on very long-term leave in the south)

  • Comment number 12.

    Well said blueandamberdan. The ignorance shown by the poster in message 8 says it all really. I could go on about journeyman Aussies in most (and at times) all of the heartland teams but most knowledgeable RL fans know that already. The youth development going on in London and the SE is outstanding and will produce an England star in the near future. Just ask B McDermott. Message to Luke Dorn and the team, ignore the comments from the usual suspects, or if you can't, use it as motivation on the pitch.

  • Comment number 13.

    This article really does hit home about rugby league and its struggle to get out of Yorkshire in particular. Luckily it is played in more exotic locations such as Lancashire and Cumbria. But for me, it'll never get rid of its 'tyke' parochialism, so perfectly summed up by the mindnumbingly smallminded comment no.8 from colinoverton. It makes you wonder if Super League even deserves the likes of the Broncos and Catalans. No wonder Union legged it over a 100 years ago.

  • Comment number 14.

    @ blueandamberdan

    Great post! Without London Broncos, what would the chances be of teams playing not just in London, but Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex?

    By all means keep Rob Powell at the club, but I think John Kear would be great for the Broncos to get the team back on track; what he accomplished with Wakefield on a tight budget was testimony to his motivational powers.

  • Comment number 15.

    Rugby League is alive and well in the south east, having coached at South London Storm and played at Norwich, Cambridge and against the likes of Hemel, West London Sharks, and various other clubs, i can testify there is an appetite for League in the South.
    And yes I have played in the northern leagues - I come from Leeds - at a good standard and both are comparible in there intensity and ability. Broncos will not attract large crowds until they get a permanent home in either East or North London, there is to much Union in West and South London.
    The RFL should not listen to the negativity, what crowds do Wakefield, Salford & Widnes get compared to Broncos they are comparitive. Stick with it and watch the players from london thrive and perform.

  • Comment number 16.

    Its great to see so much support for what's going on in London from so many quarters.

    If I might respond to the points made at no 8, I'll offer the following regarding "special treatment".

    Yes we have finished towards the bottom of the table more often than not. However, we have finished in the top half on a number of occasions, and have never finished bottom of Super League.

    As for Aussies or jouneymen from the north, I think that claim could legitimately be made of most clubs outside the "big 4". However, the conveyor belt of talent is bearing fruit.

    The same rules apply to the Broncos as to every other SL club regarding player eligibility - there is no dispensation.

    It's worth saying that no-one is more acutely aware of the need to be taken credibly than the Broncos and their supporters. I'd felt that the best way for the likes of Luke Dorn & Co to addresds this is to perform. The Broncos have underperformed this year without a shadow of a doubt, but it was great to see Luke play a full part in a good win today - not least with important defensive interventions at critical times.

 

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