Time is fast running out for League’s capital venture

 

If London Broncos sincerely believed that getting to Wembley could turn around the fortunes of an ailing club then the manner of their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat adds to the doubts over their long-term future.

The Broncos were consigned to the glue factory by a 70-0 boil-over against Wigan – the biggest winning margin in a semi in the history of the competition.

Even the Wigan – and former Broncos – chairman, Ian Lenagan, admitted that he found it painful viewing. By half-time at the Leigh Sports Village, his successor at the helm of the club in the capital, David Hughes, was sitting on his own, shaking his head slowly.

His coach, Tony Rea, described the feeling as “beyond hurt”. He knows that it could be not only a Wembley place that was at stake, but the whole future of Super League in London.

Saturday’s embarrassment comes against a grim background. London are adrift at the foot of the table and are attracting derisory crowds at The Stoop, a ground at which they will not be playing next year.

At the end of that season, the bottom two clubs will drop out of Super League. The chairman of the RFL, Brian Barwick, has admitted that a Super League without a London presence would be regrettable rather than unthinkable.

Even those of us who have argued for 30 years that a club in the capital is so important that it should be propped up even if it is attracting no spectators and winning no games are finding it harder and harder to make out an argument for them as a  special case.

After the match, Broncos’ fans were complaining about it being played 200 miles from London, in Wigan’s back yard. The boldest and fairest policy would have been to stage the semi-final in the Midlands, but that would have required a leap of faith that would not have been justified.

As even the Wigan camp realised, this was no sort of advert for the code.

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