Bucking Broncos

GARETH WALKER of League Express pays tribute to an upsurge in form at London Broncos under player-coach Andrew Henderson.

LONDON Broncos’ terrific win over Leigh last Sunday not only brought the Centurions’ club record winning run to an end, but breathed new life into the capital side’s top-four push.

Just two weeks after they brushed aside third placed Sheffield at the Summer Bash, before pushing Bradford the following Sunday, Andrew Henderson’s side did what every other in the competition has failed to do since Doncaster in July of last year.

Salford, Wakefield and the Bulls have all fallen to Leigh during that time, but the Centurions finally hit the buffers at the Hive on Sunday afternoon.

And while Paul Rowley’s promotion-chasing side will undoubtedly bounce back, the result was a significant one for the Broncos and illustrates the progress they have made under now player-coach Henderson.

When the Scotland international took over permanently from Joey Grima earlier this year the Broncos looked shorn of confidence and had lost a host of key men to injury. In fact, when they travelled to the Centurions on March 20 in the Challenge Cup, they were soundly thrashed 64-12.

Fast forward less than three months and Henderson – now back on the field himself to help plug the holes by more injuries and departures – has overseen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Results and performances had been steadily improving, but in facing the competition’s best three sides on consecutive weekends, their top four push could have come off the rails. Instead it has renewed momentum, and with a more favourable run of fixtures now coming up, the Broncos should be heavily involved in what looks like a race for fourth place with Halifax, Featherstone and Dewsbury.

Since taking over, Henderson – who continues to be advised by mentor Brian Noble – has made a handful of important additions to his squad.

Elliot Kear has been little short of a revelation since returning to Rugby League from the union ranks, Jamie Thackray has added some much-needed size and experience up front, and youngster Elliot Minchella is thriving in a loan spell from Leeds.

But just as impressive has been the way the player-coach is getting the best out of the club’s local players.

Oscar Thomas has been on fire since returning to the club at stand-off, scoring a hat-trick against Sheffield in front of the television cameras and crossing again against Leigh. Winger Iliess Macani touched down twice as well, and there were three homegrown products on the bench in Jonathan Wallace, Toby Everett and Erjon Dollapi.

It’s early days of course, and just like swallows, one win doesn’t make a summer. But the signs are encouraging that the Broncos are heading in the right direction again under Henderson.

When the club’s relegation was confirmed I had a few lively discussions on Twitter with supporters claiming it would be the end of the club in the capital. It won’t – and neither will it be a disaster if the Broncos don’t make the top four this season.

The club needs a period of proper stability and rebuilding, though any unexpected success on the first-team front during that time certainly won’t do them any harm.

Gareth Walker is the League Express Championship correspondent and writes a weekly Championship Focus column every Monday morning.