If ever there was a sliding doors moment for London Broncos in the Betfred Super League, it arguably came in the final round of regular-season fixtures in 2019.

A win over Wakefield Trinity and defeat for Hull KR at Salford Red Devils would have seen them retain their place in the top flight against all expectations at the start of the year. The result at the AJ Bell Stadium went their way as the hosts won 17-16 in golden point, but a 19-10 loss for the Broncos condemned them to relegation on points difference.

Looking at what Hull KR have achieved since then, London fans might be forgiven for wondering what might have been. Nevertheless, after five years they are back in rugby league’s big time and with plenty from that campaign to take into this one.


Live Betfred Super League


Friday 16th February 7:55pm


“You take away a lot of positives like we had some big wins that season and you’ve got to enjoy those wins this season,” Broncos full-back Alex Walker told Sky Sports. “We’ve just got to be in the moment a bit and enjoy playing against the best of the best and competing with them.

“One thing we’ve got to learn is every game matters and every try matters. We went down on points difference, so you’ve got to keep fighting until the very end and see what happens.

“Last time, it didn’t end so well, but I think we did a lot better than the expectations of everyone outside. We were so close to staying up, so hopefully we can go out there and surprise a few more people this season, and I’m sure we will.”

Harlow-born Walker was one of the players who departed the Broncos following relegation to the Betfred Championship, but he returned in 2022 after spells with Wakefield and Halifax Panthers, and played a key role as they stunned promotion favourites Featherstone Rovers and Toulouse Olympique in last year’s second-tier play-offs to secure promotion.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Check out the top 10 tries from the 2023 Super League season

Other products of the thriving London and south-east junior rugby league system and members of the Broncos’ class of 2019 are back for 2023 too, with forward Sadiq Adebiyi and half-back James Meadows rejoining from Keighley Cougars and Batley Bulldogs respectively.

They have added to the strong contingent of players from outside rugby league’s traditional heartlands which form the basis of London’s squad, with director of rugby and performance Mike Eccles, who has been with them in various guises for over a decade, having one of the few northern accents around the first team.

“The core of the club has still got the same values and Mike has been there for longer than just about anybody now,” Teddington-born Meadows told Sky Sports about his return to the Broncos.

“A lot of the lads have come through the academy in the era I did…so there is a lot of continuation of players who were there before. Everyone has got the same values and we all know what it means to play for London.

Last time, it didn’t end so well, but I think we did a lot better than the expectations of everyone outside. We were so close to staying up, so hopefully we can go out there and surprise a few more people this season, and I’m sure we will.

London Broncos’ Alex Walker

“That’s how the club want it to be, I’m sure that’s how the fans want it to be because everyone likes local lads to be playing for the team, and a lot of people should take credit for that for the growth of the junior game in London.

“At times, it probably would have been the easy option to go and find players from elsewhere, but they trusted in the system and have done a brilliant job with it.”

There have been major changes off the field since the Broncos were last in Super League though, typical of their somewhat nomadic existence since being founded as Fulham in 1980.

Having departed Ealing Trailfinders rugby union club after the 2021 season, London now train at Rosslyn Park and call Wimbledon’s Cherry Red Records Stadium their home ground. With an initial 10-year lease, it is hoped they can finally put down some roots in the south-west of the capital.

Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com - 15/10/2023 - Rugby League - Betfred Championship Grand Final - Toulouse Olympique v London Broncos - Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse, France - London Broncos lift the Championship Trophy after their victory over Toulouse Olympique promoting them to the Super League
Image:
London Broncos won the Championship to earn promotion in 2023

“I always say we’ve been spoilt being at Wimbledon,” Walker said. “It’s such a lovely stadium and a lovely ground and playing there is a massive privilege for us.

“Hopefully we can attract a few new fans this year being in Super League, but we’ve still got the contingent of supporters who follow us home and away.

“Hopefully we can reward them this season with a few big games and a few wins.”

Super League rugby will, of course, help with that aim, although the Broncos’ fate this year will depend on significantly improving their illustrative IMG grading rather than what they do on the field after being ranked the lowest of the B-grade clubs last year.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sky Sports’ Jenna Brooks explains how IMG’s new grading system will affect Super League clubs this year

Eccles has previously insisted his sole focus is what happens on the field rather than stressing about off-field matters beyond his control, and it is a view shared by the players as well.

Instead, they are all excited about tackling 10-time Super League champions St Helens – a team they beat twice in 2019 – at Totally Wicked Stadium in the season opener, and once again attempting to prove the naysayers who doubt their ability to compete wrong.

“We’re just focusing on ourselves,” Meadows said. “We’re aware of what we need to do and where we need to get better.

“We’ve had a few good hit-outs which have highlighted where we’re doing really well and some things we need to get a lot better in. That’s something we’ll continue throughout the year.

“A lot of guys have spoken about gradual improvement and that’s something we’re chasing as well.”

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!

You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features, and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!

Find out more here…

Watch London Broncos away to St Helens in their 2024 Betfred Super League season opener live on Sky Sports Action on Friday February 16 (8pm kick-off). Also stream contract-free with NOW.



Source link