Saturday’s 82-10 defeat to Warrington was the low point so far of a terrible 2013 season for London. The 15-try defeat was the Broncos’ fifteenth defeat of the league season, and led to coach Tony Rea apologising to the supporters for an abysmal performance.
What makes matters worse is that the game was staged away from London’s home of the Twickenham Stoop, at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium, in order to attract new supporters. In a crowd of just over 3,000 it’s probably fair to assume that somewhere between 500 and a thousand people were there who wouldn’t normally attend a rugby league match. With such a poor spectacle, how many of them will want to attend another game?
There’s no doubt that there are problems at London. There have been some very poor performances this season, Craig Gower has cancelled his contract mid-season to make an immediate return to Australia, and attendances remain stubbornly low, with a mere 1,810 present for the visit of Castleford the week before.
However, there has been one, relatively small, positive in the last few weeks. The Broncos may have lost a key player in Gower, but the club captaincy has now been taken up by Tony Clubb, from Gravesend in Kent. London are now captained by a local player, someone who has progressed through the club rather than being brought in from elsewhere.
That doesn’t diminish the Broncos’ current woes, nor does it prove that London deserve a place in the top flight in any future re-ordering of the league system (or deserved a place in any past re-ordering of the league system, if it comes to that) but it’s important to recognise that the development of players in the South is really happening, refuting arguments that by nature rugby league can never take hold anywhere other than certain areas of England’s North.
London’s squad now includes a significant number of such players. There are four players from London itself: Mason Caton-Brown from Enfield, Kieran Dixon from Hackney, Jamie O’Callaghan from Hammersmith and Oscar Thomas from Paddington (David Howell is from Camden, but that’s Camden in New South Wales).
There are four others from the South East, including Clubb, Mike Bishay from Ashford, Michael Channing from Guildford and Mike McKeekan from Basingstoke. From slightly further afield comes Will Lovell from Northampton, and the squad also includes an Albanians, Olsi Krasniqi, who moved to Feltham as a child and is an adopted Londoner. That’s before we count players who have left for other clubs, such as Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, now a first-team regular at St Helens.
Not all of these players have made many appearances – in fact both Caton-Brown and Thomas have yet to make a first-team appearance – but others have established themselves in the first team – O’Callaghan has made 93 appearances, Dixon 46, Krasniqi 54. London Broncos – in conjunction with community clubs and others working on the development of rugby league – have successfully established players from outside the traditional heartlands as Super League players.
To repeat, none us this diminishes London’s problems, both long term and short term. But, firstly, it makes a mockery of those who proclaim the wholesale failure of introducing rugby league to London and the South; and secondly, pointing out positives, even small ones, prevents the rugby league from turning into a sport of total pessimism and despair.
Keep Your Eye on Rugby League