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Opinion: Relegation wouldn’t be the end for London

Opinion: Relegation wouldn’t be the end for London

by: Gareth Walker, April 28, 2014, 4:46 pm

Last month I found myself caught up in a lengthy Twitter discussion over the future of London Broncos should they be relegated this season.

There’s a fair few people that believe that will ultimately lead to the end of the club, and that Rugby League in London will flounder badly without a Super League presence.

You can even be accused of northern parochialism if you challenge that opinion.

But I’m going to challenge it anyway – and I’d like to see a strong London Broncos in Super League as much as anybody.

I just can’t see how that is going to happen in the current climate of heavy defeats and ever-dwindling crowds.

The first myth to dismiss is that relegation is a disaster for anybody – I just can’t find many, if any, examples of that. Workington are probably the closest following their Super League exit in 1996, but in any sport there will always be some clubs that can’t rebound immediately, and Town have done a fine job of finally rebuilding in recent years.

In reality, most of the clubs that have gone down have come back significantly stronger – Widnes, Salford, Castleford and perhaps the best example of all, Huddersfield.

I understand that London is a different case to any of these, being so far away from the traditional strongholds of the game.

But if they do go down, they will be doing so within a structure that will offer more help to relegated clubs than ever before, with significantly increased funding at the lower level and a system that allows them to potentially bounce straight back.

To me personally, the club would have more chance of attracting supporters – new and old – if they had a winning side for the first time in recent memory.

The outstanding development work that has been done in and around London over the last decade means that there are now more locally-produced players available that ever before. In fact, the Broncos have more homegrown players in their squad season than most clubs in the competition.

We’re already seeing some of those have an impact on Super League in the likes of like Illies Macani, Mike McMeeken and Mason Caton-Brown.

There are others waiting to push through as well, and they could undoubtedly form the basis of a strong Championship side, if complimented by a handful of shrewd overseas additions.

I can see the argument that London needs a top flight presence to give youngsters like those something to aim for.

But a key element of the new structure is that every club will have something to aim for from 2015 onwards. Londoners could have the prospect of playing in a side capable of winning some silverware, that if handled properly could generate positive media coverage and increased support. How far away is that prospect if they continue in the current vein?

Above almost everything in this discussion though, for me, is this.

I’m certainly not relegating London Broncos in April, but at present they look very long odds to survive, and there is no exemption from the drop for anybody.

What is the better way of looking at relegation for the club – completely writing off their chances of regrouping, or looking at the drop as a potential positive relaunching pad for the sport’s biggest enigma?

It’s a debate that will no doubt continue, and Phil Caplan puts forward an alternative view in his column on page 68.

I think most rational Rugby League supporters would agree that having a strong London club in Super League would be hugely beneficial to the sport.

How we finally achieve that is arguably the biggest conundrum Rugby League in this country faces.

A final word – for this month at least – on the return to promotion and relegation.

Widnes Vikings are held up as a shining example of the licence system, and rightly so, given their significant progress over a three-year term that has culminated in this year’s excellent start.

But my question would be this.

Would all of the Vikings’ investors over the last three years – so crucial to their current success – have hung around for another three years in the Championship had their application not been successful?

That has been the prospect for the likes of Featherstone, Leigh and Halifax – all who have the potential to become a Castleford, Widnes or Huddersfield.

Those clubs – and others – are now itching to prove that they deserve the opportunities that next season onwards will provide.

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