First published in Rugby League World, Issue 389 (Sept 2013)
“I hate the notion that relegation will spell disaster for any club, and a key part of the restructuring is to ensure that myth is completely dispelled.”
The Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final between Wigan and London provided some lasting images, not least the scoreboard showing the 70-0 result at full-time. But perhaps the most telling was that of Broncos owner David Hughes sat in the main stand at Leigh Sports Village, looking on as the team he has invested so much into crumbled on national television.
It’s difficult not to have some sympathy with Hughes, who has plowed a small fortune into trying to make the club a success in recent years. His pledge to spend the full salary cap for the three-year duration of the current license period was a bold, admirable one that most people in the game hoped would lead to the start of some genuine success for the capital club.
When, as Harlequins, they won four of their opening five games of that first 2011 season – including beating Leeds, St Helens and Catalans, no less – those hopes looked as though they may actually be realised.
The following week they were beaten 82-6 at Warrington, and things have continued to get worse every since. At the time of writing, they had won just 12 of their previous 71 Super League fixtures – a thoroughly depressing statistic for a team with such investment.
This season, attendances have dropped alarmingly, below 2,000 at times, and they now look certain to relocate for the 2014 season. The return of coach Tony Rea, for whatever reason, hasn’t had the desired effect, and there is extensive speculation that virtually all of their best players from this year will be cherry-picked by rival clubs.
With the RFL confirming that no club will be given special dispensation from relegation under whichever new structure is decided upon, there are widespread fears for the future of the Broncos.
But should we be fearful?
For one thing, I hate the notion that relegation will spell disaster for any club, and a key part of the restructuring is to ensure that myth is completely dispelled. Four of the current Super League clubs – including high flyers Huddersfield – have been through relegation during the summer era, while three others have played outside the top flight, and it doesn’t seem to have done them any lasting harm.
Perhaps London Broncos would actually benefit from playing at a lower level, regrouping properly, and winning some matches. The current immunity from the drop for three years at a time certainly doesn’t seem to be doing their competitiveness any good.
There have been years of time and money invested in junior development in the capital, and that is starting to bear very real fruit. The Broncos’ homegrown quota within their own squad would compare favourably with many Super League rivals, and the likes of Keiran Dixon and Dan Sarginson are now apparently being coveted by some of those, just as Loius McCarthy-Scarsbrook was picked up by St Helens.
Just because a Super League club in London hasn’t worked particularly well in recent years, doesn’t mean that it never will.
But they undoubtedly need to make smarter decisions across the board, from key off-field appointments to where they chose as their next base.
I still think they missed a trick in not pulling out all the stops to get Brian Noble down to the capital when he was available, a challenge, I’m assured, that he would have relished at the time.
But now, they have to look forward, and look forward with positivity despite the doom and gloom that will naturally follow a 70-point semi-final defeat. There is no other way.
In short, should the club be given any kind of special treatment when the game decides on its new structure? Not for me.
But should we all give up on professional Rugby League in London? Absolutely not.