Broncos have big gap to fill

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The Independent Online

When the London Broncos lost the services of Dennis Moran this winter, the obvious knee-jerk reaction was to install them as ante-post favourites for one of the two relegation places from this year's Super League.

When the London Broncos lost the services of Dennis Moran this winter, the obvious knee-jerk reaction was to install them as ante-post favourites for one of the two relegation places from this year's Super League.

Moran had been an out-and-out match-winner for the Broncos, capable of scoring long-range tries to rescue them even when they were not playing well. His record of 77 tries in 115 appearances speaks for itself.

But anyone expecting the Broncos' coach, Tony Rea, to be tearing out his hair in frustration will be disappointed. For one thing, a club whose finances are not exactly secure got a decent fee from Wigan for a player who was still under contract. For another, they have not been idle since his departure.

"We've lost a good half-back," Rea says, "but we've signed three good half-backs." All three of those newcomers are in the squad to play Warrington in the opening game of the season at Griffin Park today - and Rea has hit upon the solution to the apparent puzzle of how to fit a trio of half-backs into his side.

The daunting task of taking over Moran's No 7 shirt falls to Thomas Leuluai, a player already familiar to British audiences; he played for New Zealand in the Tri-Nations last autumn. Despite his international pedigree, Leuluai is only 19, and the intention is to give him an extended run as the starting scrum-half while he develops and adapts.

Alongside him - and thus taking over the role of another departed hero, Jim Dymock - will be Luke Dorn, who has first-grade experience in Sydney with Manly and the Roosters.

That leaves the most proven player of the trio, the former Canberra half-back Mark McLinden. A first choice at the Raiders for six years and still only 25, he has not been brought to London to sit on the bench. The solution will be to start him at hooker, where Rea believes he could have a big impact.

"He's played hooker and he's really good there," he says. "The three of them, on the field together, will be our major strength." The Broncos have other high-profile newcomers, such as the Manly forward Solomon Haumono, but it is the midfield triumvirate who will determine whether they can keep clear of the trap door this season.

Warrington were disappointed with their performances last year, especially when their backs failed to capitalise on good field positions. They have invested heavily in a cutting edge for this season, not just signing St Helens' Martin Gleeson but also a partner for him in Toa Kohe-Love. If those two stay healthy, they will not let sides off the hook the way Warrington did too often last season.

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