Not everyone in the game will be sorry to see London Broncos drop out of Super League.
What has been inevitable all year was confirmed last weekend when Broncos’ 72-12 defeat at Warrington Wolves left them 15 points adrift of safety with seven games left to play.
London are on course to become the first Super League team to lose every game in a season and are arguably the poorest side in the competition’s 19-season history.
There have been some woeful teams since Super League began in 1996 – Workington Town that year (five points), Huddersfield Giants in 1998 (four), Leigh Centurions nine years ago (five) and Crusaders in 2009 (six) – but only the Halifax side of 2003 are comparable to the current London outfit.
They won just one of 28 league matches, away to London in round one, but had those points deducted for a breach of the salary cap the previous season.
Halifax conceded 1,227 points that year, scoring only 372. London in their 20 games so far have let in 867 and scored 288. London were fast-tracked, after finishing fourth the previous year, into the 1995-96 Stones Bitter Centenary Championship and have remained in the top-flight ever since, never finishing bottom before this year.
Their best campaign was in 1997, when they were runners-up to Bradford Bulls – who will be relegated along with them if they lose away to Huddersfield Giants on Sunday.
London have never been popular among some involved in the sport. The manner of their inclusion in Super League upset some traditionalists, they haven’t been a well-run club, aren’t well-supported, don’t add anything to other clubs’ gates in terms of visiting fans and have a history of financial problems.
All the same, Super League will be poorer – in terms of image as much as anything else – without them next term.
Super League – in this country – will once again be confined to the M62 corridor. With the exception of French outpost Catalan Dragons, the Cheshire clubs – Warrington and Widnes Vikings – will be as far south as Super League fans have to travel in 2015.
At a time when the game at grassroots level is expanding – and now has a genuinely national competition in Kingstone Press Championship One – Super League is actually contracting.
There are those who feel rugby league is and always will be a northern sport, but fantastic work has been done in the south – particularly London – over the last couple of decades. At community level the game down there is thriving. The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, won last year’s Champion Schools Year 7 Wembley curtain-raiser, succeeding Surrey Howard of Effingham School as the title holders.
Good London-born players are now beginning to come through Broncos’ academy on to the Super League scene. Mason Caton-Brown, who recently signed for Salford Red Devils is a good example.
Broncos’ under-19s are ninth in their league table and their youngsters are no longer just big or quick, they can play and are steeped in the game. Without a top-flight club to aim for, many of them will inevitably be lost to the sport.
Though London are recruiting and retaining players and plan to remain full-time, a lot of good work is under real threat.
That is the true cost of Broncos’ relegation.
AN outstanding achievement has gone almost unnoticed.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ win at home to Widnes Vikings a week ago, coupled with Bradford Bulls’ defeat at St Helens the following day, means there will be Super League rugby played at Rapid Solicitors Stadium again next year.
Avoiding relegation with seven games left may not normally be a cause for celebration, but it is in Wakefield’s case, given where they were last autumn and the obstacles they have had to overcome.
A traumatic off- and pre-season saw a host of star players (of the quality of Tim Smith, above, Ben Cockayne, Paul Aiton, Justin Poore and Frankie Mariano) depart, the club’s stadium capacity was slashed, a pre-season camp had to be cancelled and their overseas recruits didn’t arrive until the 11th hour, or after it. Wakefield were, along with the always-doomed London, hot favourites for the drop, but safety has been assured on merit.
Even with six points back, Bradford would still be nine behind Wakefield – and Wildcats began round 17 above big-spending duo Hull and Salford Red Devils. After five games unbeaten under new boss James Webster, the top-eight is suddenly in sight. What a feat that would be.