LEEDS RHINOS coach Brian McDermott has voiced a passionate defence of rugby league in the capital, as his team prepare to try and rub salt into London Broncos’ open wound.
London are bottom of Super League and go into tonight’s clash at Twickenham Stoop on the back of one of the worst results in the club’s recent history, a 70-0 thrashing by Wigan Warriors in last Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final.
That defeat has raised questions over Broncos’ long-term future, but McDermott, who coached London – then known as Harlequins – from July, 2006 until October 2010, believes the sport has much to offer in the country’s biggest city.
“I have a lot of affection for rugby league in London,” McDermott admitted.
“Last Saturday clearly wasn’t a great day for rugby league, to watch another Super League team have so many points put against them. I suppose it’s now time for all the critics of London to come out of the woodwork and have a crack. But I maintain that what you saw last Saturday afternoon wasn’t a reflection of what goes on for the vast majority of rugby league in London.
“The professional team is a small percentage of what goes on in terms of rugby league in London.
“Rugby league in London is healthy, hugely healthy – lots of people playing and lots of kids and lots of amateurs.
“There’s lots of adults playing and lots of staff involved. There’s still some great things happening down there below the professional team.
“There is a danger in saying (last Saturday’s result) means it is not working. I’ve seen a couple of headlines saying it brings into question the viability of rugby league in London.
“Because of one professional team, I think that is a bit of a loose statement.”
On the value of a London team, he went on: “If you want to look at the real bigger picture, I think it’s hugely important.
“But at the same time (in terms of) the immediate, short-term future of where our sport is at the moment, we can’t afford to be carrying too many clubs that aren’t meeting quite a few standards, whether they be crowds, on-field performances, business plans.
“I know first-hand how difficult it is down there, but our sport needs to be in a healthier state come the next TV deal or the next time funding become available.
“If we are carrying clubs that hemorrhage money and don’t bring in a crowd and keep losing, people’s patience will run out.
“I get that, but at the same time there is a huge picture to be looked at. Our sport could be so much bigger if London was to be cracked.”
McDermott insisted: “Speaking from first-hand, it still hasn’t been done properly, they haven’t been playing on a level playing field for a number of years now and what you saw on Saturday was probably the result of a slow decline since 2005-2006, when we had to produce home-grown juniors.
“They have got to have a certain amount of English-based players and are allowed only a certain number of overseas players.
“London never really got the first pick of any English players that became available, so it is an incredibly difficult job for the professional team – in terms of regulations and legislation – to play at the same level as everybody else.
“Then at the same time you are asking them to produce winning teams. It is very unrealistic I would say.”
McDermott pointed out that the cost of living in London is higher than anywhere else in the country, but the club operate to the same salary cap – and he believes a London-weighting would be appropriate. He said: “You know some players are getting paid x-amount up north and they say ‘yes I’ll come down to you, but I want an extra £10-20-30 grand’. Times that by 25 squad members, there’s a fair amount of your salary cap that’s not spent on the quality of a player.
“To be conservative you could say they are over-paying each player by 10k to get them to London – that’s £250,000 you are not actually spending on players, you are spending on overs.
“I think it’s more likely 20k per player – and that’s £500,000 out of a £1.7m salary cap you’re not actually spending on players, you are spending on trying to convince another player to go down there.
“That’s just one of many obstacles that club has to overcome.”
But despite his passion for the sport in the capital, McDermott will have no room for sympathy tonight as Leeds aim to move a step closer to a top-four finish in Super League.
Asked how he’d feel if Rhinos deepened Broncos’ troubles with a 40-point win, he said: “If that was to happen I won’t have any emotions towards London during the game. At the moment all my emotions are towards Leeds Rhinos and our task to get as far up the ladder as possible. If that means putting 40 points against London, should we be good enough to do that, I won’t feel guilty about doing that.”
The Leeds boss stressed he doesn’t expect Broncos to be as poor tonight as they were five days ago.
He said: “It is dangerous to just write them off – they are not going to play like that again, ever.
“That team that showed up against Wigan will not be the team that we face on their home ground a week later.”
London Broncos from: Dorn, Colbon, Shaw, Sarginson, Robertson, O’Callaghan, Soward, Cook, Lee, Bryant, Rodney, Kaufusi, Fairbank, Krasniqi, Wheeldon, Fisher, McKeeken, Melling, Woodburn-Hall.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Leuluai, Sinfield, Peacock, Clarkson, Ablett, Delaney, Kirke, Moore, Foster, Bailey, Duckworth, McShane.
Referee: Tim Roby (Preston).