Joe Grima hopes to gee up the Broncos
New head coach of Super League's bottom club – played 12, lost 12 – has first win of season in sights during Magic Weekend
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Thursday 15 May 2014
Several Super League clubs go into the annual Magic Weekend hoping that it can sprinkle some transformative dust on their season, but for one of their number, defeat at the Etihad on Saturday will hint that it can only get grimmer.
Joe Grima will be in his second game in charge of the London Broncos when they take on the Catalan Dragons in the first match of the two-day showcase, with every team in Super League playing. He knows that it could be a long time before they have a better chance of winning their first league match of the season.
The Australian, who was promoted earlier this month after Tony Rea left the club, says the Broncos have forgotten how to win matches. Saturday's match against a Catalan side which have forgotten how to travel successfully is by far their biggest opportunity of breaking their duck – and hopefully gaining their first point of the campaign which stands at played 12, lost 12 and with a -353 points difference.
Grima admits to flagging the game up to his players as a "must win, can win" game. "But that's true of other games," Grima says. "We are capable of winning games if we play for the full 80 minutes."
Their last match, against last season's tabletoppers, Huddersfield, was a case in point. London led for most of the first half before going down 30-16. For a team thrown together at short notice after a winter of uncertainty, that was no small achievement. For all their travails, the Broncos have a remarkably settled line-up. "We have to," says Grima. "We've got no depth."
Rea's departure brought to an end a 19-year association with the Broncos, who he joined as a player in 1995. He left in 2008, but returned in 2012 to lead an outfit with serious financial problems.
Grima says Rea was due to leave at the end of the season and his departure after they hit the bottom of the league "was only bringing forward what was going to happen anyway". "I was always going to take over and Tony move into a director of rugby role," he adds.
Grima is now flying solo, with no technical back-up and no assistant. "Very busy," is the way he describes his life now. It is a far cry from the way he has worked in the past.
He spent 19 years as a lower-grades player and assistant coach at Parramatta, Cronulla and St George-Illawarra, before coming to England with a head coaching role very much in mind. The one he has inherited is far from an easy project. The Broncos have even been overtaken in the table by Bradford, who were docked six points for entering administration, and were the overwhelming favourites to be relegated from the competition at the end of this season.
That presents obvious problems, but it also carries one advantage. The Broncos have been moulded by adversity into a unified, stubborn outfit.
They are not without talent either, with Grima singling out the Albanian-born prop Olsi Krasniqi and the pacy utility back, Mason Caton-Brown. Then there is Iliess Macani, who has caught the eye at full-back, and the prospect in six weeks or so of finally seeing Kieran Dixon back on the pitch this season after injury.
Grima is also impressed by the rangy forward, Mike McMeeken, a regular this campaign who had a run-out with the capital's junior partners, the London Skolars, last week.
Given the talent he has, Grima refuses to accept the inevitability of relegation to the Championship. "We don't use the R-word a lot, but it's not a done deal," he says. "There's still more than half the games to go."
If they do go down, he insists, "it would not be the end of the world. We can take a step back and re-group."
Grima, carrying so much of the burden single-handedly, needs help with keeping his players positive. That is where his senior men come in; players like his captain, Matt Cook, and the much-travelled Scott Moore.
"He's certainly got energy and enthusiasm," Moore says of his coach. Regardless of what happens as the Etihad is filling up Saturday lunchtime, Grima will need both of those qualities.
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