London Broncos: Promoted Super League 'underdogs' determined to upset odds again

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
London Broncos celebrate winning the Million Pound Game
London Broncos were last in Super League in 2014
Betfred Super League
Starts: Thursday, 31 January
Coverage: Selected full match commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC local radio and the BBC Sport website; listen to the weekly BBC Rugby League podcast and watch highlights on the Super League Show; selected live text commentaries and reports of every game on the BBC Sport website and app.

London Broncos have made proving people wrong something of a habit.

Following head coach Andrew Henderson's departure for Warrington, Broncos were tipped to struggle in the 2018 Championship. They did not.

They were not expected to reach the Qualifiers, let alone the Million Pound Game. They did both.

Then, to top it off, London beat big-spending Toronto Wolfpack in their own backyard to secure their Super League return.

So, when people talk about London being certainties for an immediate exit from the top flight, you could forgive them for their defiance.

"For me it's better to be an underdog, but secretly I know what we've got," Broncos owner David Hughes told the BBC Rugby League Podcast.

"I don't believe we'll get relegated, 100%. We'll knock over too many teams, that's not bravado, I think we're better than that.

"People will underestimate us but if we stay fit - and we're quite durable - I'm secretly quite confident.

"It's the tightest team we've ever had and that will get us through and we'll stay in Super League. Wigan, Warrington, we want all that - and we're thrilled."

Rewarding the 2018 Broncos achievers

Alex Walker for the London Broncos gathers a high kick
Harlow-born Alex Walker is one of the academy successes in London's first-grade squad

Credit for the Ealing-based Broncos' brilliance last season goes to head coach Danny Ward, who stepped up from assistant in the wake of Henderson's exit.

Having nurtured a crop of young, homegrown talent in his role as academy coach, Ward's progress to the Broncos' top job has seen the continuation of Londoners threaded through the first-team.

They include full-back Alex Walker - who plays for Scotland but comes from Harlow - back-rower Daniel Hindmarsh, from north London, and Nigeria-born Londoner Sadiq Adebiyi, while academy product Kieran Dixon was brought back from Hull KR.

New arrivals have supplemented the 2018 group, such as Newcastle Knights forward Luke Yates and St Helens centre Ryan Morgan, but it is the core that created the fairytale who will be given the opportunity to taste life at the top table.

"We want to reward the lads who got us here," Ward told the BBC's Super League Show. "At the beginning of last season I told the boys they were capable of being Super League players and now they've got that opportunity.

"There are also lads who have played in the Super League academy system for a number of years and it's a big challenge for them to step up.

"As coaches we're about developing and making them better and hopefully they'll show up well this year."

Friday night lights - Cunningham looking forward to Super League

James Cunningham
James Cunningham was on the cusp of England Knights honours before groin surgery ended his year

One of the survivors of London's last top-tier campaign is half-back James Cunningham, who swapped Hull for Ealing having been a loanee in the capital in 2014.

The 24-year-old was the only Championship player included in the England set-up last season, featuring in Paul Anderson's Knights squad, and would have been involved in the Papua New Guinea tour were it not for groin surgery.

Super League is a new chapter for players like Cunningham, who are just looking forward to the challenge.

"I can't wait for the Friday night lights, TV games and the best players in the world," Cunningham told BBC Sport.

"We've not set any targets, we just want to compete, compete in the Super League, be consistent and hopefully snag a few wins along the way.

"We're full of confidence going into this year. We played against a couple of Super League teams [in the Qualifiers] and got results with a weaker squad, and we've strengthened now.

"We can only be confident going into this season."

'No Super League without London'

While no one at London is plotting for the likelihood of relegation, going forward there is a genuine desire to develop a sustainable set-up by harvesting the best of local talent all the way to the first team.

Winning for the Broncos is more than just points on the board, it is the continuation of rugby league thriving in the capital city.

"It's a cliche, but for me there's no Super League without London," owner Hughes added. "You can't have Super League and not have a London team, it doesn't add up.

"However, the only development we can do to create a team and legacy in Super League is through Rob Powell and our academy. Our under-16s and under-19s are outstanding, we knocked over all the top teams last season.

"Six or seven have come into the first-team from the academy for this season, that's the future."

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