Rugby League: Broncos' Cup final appeal to Branson

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The Independent Online
THE LONDON BRONCOS are appealing to the most recognisable club chairman in the game, Richard Branson, to have a change of heart and lead them out at Wembley.

Branson, whose Virgin group owns the club, has expressed a reluctance to muscle in on the big day, but the Broncos' chief executive, Tony Rea, is trying to persuade him to take centre stage for the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final on 1 May. "He says it's the team's day, but the team wants him to lead them out and I think he will," Rea said.

Rea was due to talk today to Branson, who is out of the country, to pass on the players' request that he should precede them out of the Wembley tunnel on the last time it will figure in a rugby league final. "Just from the point of view of the profile of the club, it would be a great thing for us," Rea added.

The Broncos stand-off, Karle Hammond, who has played twice at Wembley for St Helens, agreed. "It can only help the club from a publicity point of view if he leads us out for the final," he said.

Lionel Hurst, the chairman of the Rugby League Conference, which is made up of teams from outside the game's heartland, said that London reaching the final would significantly enhance its national credentials.

"Their win in the semi-final at Headingley will be seen as pivotal in rugby league's growth, not just in Britain but around the world," he said at the launch of the second season of the Conference yesterday.

The Broncos, whose second row forward, Dominic Peters, played for West London in the competition last year, are among the biggest supporters of the Conference. "It is not a question of what we can do for them or what they can do for us, but about the combined strength of the two," Rea said. "We are going to give a great performance at Wembley and give rugby league in the south something to be proud of."

There is evidence of further interaction between the Conference and the professional game in the staging of their preliminary grand finals as curtain-raisers before Super League matches this summer.

The final eliminator for clubs in the south and east sections will be before the London v Salford game on 7 August, while teams from the north and east will play before Warrington meet St Helens on 15 August. The Grand Final is to be held at the New River Stadium, home of the London Skolars, on the 21 August.

The Conference, which begins its season on 8 May, includes six new teams this year and also has most of its clubs fielding junior outfits. "We are putting our best people into the junior sides, because that's where our future lies," Hurst said.

n Bradford Bulls' Henry and Robbie Paul have been named in the New Zealand team for the Anzac Day Test against Australia at Sydney's Olympic Stadium on Friday, 23 April. The brothers were automatic selections after helping the Kiwis to a historic series triumph on British soil last year.

The Paul brothers will fly out to Sydney after the Bulls' Super League game at Warrington on Sunday and will miss their club's match against Halifax a week later.