House of Payne: Broncos relegation is a failure for rugby league

Down: London Broncos, in black, and Bradford Bulls were relegated from Super League this season

Down: London Broncos, in black, and Bradford Bulls were relegated from Super League this season

First published in Sport

If London Broncos thought they would get immediate sympathy as their 19-year stay in Super League ended they were mistaken, writes John Payne.

Tony Smith, the straight-talking Warrington coach, instead spelt out harsh truths after his side's 72-12 win on Sunday performed the last rites.

“For the London club and for Super League it shows you how not to get ready for a rugby league season,” said Smith.

“It’s how not to do things and how not to improve the standard of Super League when they are so ill-prepared like London were.”

The club’s multiple identities and nomadic existence may have been tolerated by a sport desperate for a presence in the capital, but this season’s on-field embarrassment couldn’t be.

It was all a far cry from when Richard Branson, dressed in open shirt and jeans, led Broncos out the 1999 Challenge Cup final.

Around that time they got crowds of a few thousand.

The Virgin boss had vowed to make Broncos the best side in the world and build support in the capital and such luminaries as Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards and Steele Retchless wore the shirt with distinction.

Even though Branson was gone just two years later David Hughes had, until now, always invested enough to keep Broncos off the bottom of the table and retain their status as one of just six ever-presents in Super League.

But, for a whole host of reasons, rugby league has never captured London’s interest – certainly not with enough loyalty to have endured Broncos’ moves from Charlton to Twickenham to Brentford back to Twickenham and now onto Barnet.

During the same period, rugby union has grown to the stage where world-class players regularly grace the Stoop, the sport as a spectacle has improved out of all recognition and club rugby fixtures frequently sell-out Twickenham or Wembley.

Sneering northern clubs should remember this isn’t just a failure for London Broncos, it is a failure for rugby league.

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