Broncos face usual battles on and off the field
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.