Talking Rugby League: London Broncos’ grading plea made too late

LAST week London Broncos owner David Hughes issued a statement in response to the blow his club has suffered by having such a low ranking in the grades issued by IMG at the end of last season.

Hughes objects to the grading and says that the Broncos have been placed in an invidious position in 2024, when they are likely to be relegated to the Championship regardless of how they perform in Super League.

I have reprinted some of his comments below.

“Our promotion last year was a magnificent achievement and it should have put us back in a position to push the club forward and to grow the sport in the country’s capital. However, instead of planning for the future where we can once again establish ourselves in Super League, we find ourselves being graded on the last 3 years – which have arguably been the toughest in the club’s history. London Broncos have been in Super League for 21 out of the 28 years of its existence.

“London Broncos were relegated from Super League in 2019 the same year in which the COVID pandemic struck the globe. Relegation and the pandemic forced the club to become part-time, a very difficult but necessary financial decision. During this period clubs have since fallen into financial troubles, with some going into administration and others disappearing altogether. At no point have we suffered such issues yet some of those clubs receive a higher score for finances than ourselves.

“We are incredibly proud to represent London however, playing rugby league in London is a difficult proposition compared to the north. We have taken rugby league to communities in East London (Charlton), North London (Barnet), and South West London (Ealing, Brentford, Twickenham and Wimbledon).

“We have worked tirelessly within our community to discover talent and create a pathway to professional rugby league. In a part of the world which is dominated by other sports, in particular rugby union, we have been very successful. We have helped to produce countless players who now ply their trade in Super League and even current England players (Mike McMeeken & Kai Pearce Paul) have come through our academy. In last season’s Championship winning squad there was just one person who was born in the north of the country – that was the head coach Mike Eccles.

“Within the IMG grading criteria there is no direct reward for having an Academy and producing players. We all share the same ambition to grow the sport, so why would this not be included in the criteria yet something like the amount of social media followers a team has is?

“We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to establish the club and sport within London. However, there can be no denying that due to its size and population London’s potential remains as big as it has ever been. Yet despite being in London and being the only professional club in the south of the country we were awarded the lowest possible score for our catchment area. This needs to be re-looked at.

“Condemning a club to relegation before a ball has even been kicked takes away the jeopardy and drama that makes the millions tune in week on week, year after year. If London Broncos finish the 2024 season in 11th place or higher there has to be a scenario in place in which we stay in the division.

“London Broncos want to work with IMG to improve as a club and we continue to have the long-term aim of achieving a Grade A status – but we also urge IMG to consider the points being put to them by the many clubs who have raised similar concerns. This is not to act as a moan but simply to once again open up the conversation about the criteria being put forward by IMG as how to grow but protect the sport in which we all love.”

I agree with most of those comments, but unfortunately it now seems that it is too late to intervene to make any difference to the eventual outcome.

In my view, the RFL and Super League should not have accepted the IMG grading system as the lone determinant of whether a club can play in Super League. But unfortunately both bodies have gone along with these proposals, foolish though they may seem.

I wish that David had made these points a year or more ago, when this grading system was being planned.

If he had done, then maybe we might have seen some common sense being applied.

But unfortunately that hasn’t happened.