It is a big week for rugby league in London, but one which the brand of Harlequins RL will not survive. The eyes of the world game tomorrow will be on the International Player of the Year awards – held in the capital for the first time – and even more so on Saturday, for the Four Nations double-header at Wembley.
But before all that, London's Super League club will today re-launch itself in a form which it hopes will finally win hearts and minds in the city. "We went through a consultation process and one thing that came through strongly was that we should change our name," said the club's chief executive, Gus Mackay. "The feeling was that we wanted the word 'London' in it."
Mackay is holding back confirmation of the rest of the name until today, but it is thought to be the Broncos title that they carried from 1994 to 2006. The Quins title was the result of a partnership between the two clubs that probably saved top-flight rugby league in London. It has, however, had major draw-backs.
Not only has playing as Harlequins submerged their identity, it has, Mackay believes, discouraged potential rugby league spectators from other union clubs. "There's an untapped market there among people who might watch rugby league, but won't watch Harlequins. We firmly believe that there's a market for rugby league in London. There's going to be a large proportion of the people at the Four Nations, for instance, who are from London and the South-east."
Contrary to some suggestions, the club has no immediate plans to leave The Stoop, although the intention is to take a couple of games "on the road" elsewhere in the South-east. "I'm a great believer in taking the game to the public," said Mackay, who was previously with Surrey County Cricket Club. "If we get 5-6,000, it's more than we've been getting here."
This will be the final year of their deal with Quins, however, and a move after that, possibly to a part of London where professional rugby union is not as strong, cannot be ruled out. The long-term aspiration is for rugby league to have its own home in London, but the emphasis there might well be on the "long term".
More immediately, a new playing strip will be unveiled today, which will be neither a Harlequin nor an old London Broncos design. The appeal of the operation, though, will inevitably depend on what the team, whatever it is called and whatever it wears, does on the field. After a most encouraging start last season, the rest of the campaign was little short of a disaster. This year, thanks to the deep pockets of the chairman, David Hughes, the club will spend up to its full salary cap for the first time, with players of international calibre like Craig Gower and Michael Robertson already signed-up.
What the various custodians of rugby league in London over the last 30 years have agreed upon, however, is that the future lies in cultivating the athletic talent of the capital. Over the last few years, they have brought through players like Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Tony Clubb, both Londoners who have gone on to play for England. There are also more amateur clubs, more league-playing schools and more junior players in London than there have ever been, not to mention the semi-professional London Skolars.
Today's announcements might just plant a banner in the ground around which they can all rally.Reuse content