Published on February 10, 2014 | by Andrew Odiwe0
Rugby League still trying to find its feet in London
Mention rugby in London, and for most the first thing that comes to mind is Twickenham, the home of English rugby union. The ‘other’ rugby code – rugby league – is a northern–dominated sport that has always been on the periphery in London and the Home Counties.
The only team based in the south of the country are the London Broncos, who regularly prop up the Super League and were in administration last year. David Lawrenson, the media and marketing executive for London Rugby League, said: “London Broncos and under their previous guises have historically struggled in the Super League. In lower leagues there are teams in the south of the country that are competing well such as London Skolars and Hemel Stags.”
Lawrenson has seen an improvement in participation at grassroots level in London and its surrounding area, with more teams being formed in London and more competitive games at school-level against their northern counterparts. He said that five clubs have been formed in the last six or seven years, adding: “The South West London Chargers won a national league and also made it to the first round of the Challenge Cup, which is the most prestigious trophy in the English Rugby League.”
Lawrenson has also been impressed with rugby league at school level with more teams at a younger age breaking the mould and progressing in national tournaments. He said: “The year 7 age group of RGS High Wycombe beat Castleford in the Champion Schools final at Wembley which was preceded by Howard of Effingham’s from Surrey. This would have been unheard of ten years ago. So there has been a gradual improvement in increasing participation in the south of England.”
On the Broncos, who start their campaign against Widnes on February 16, Lawrenson was optimistic about their future as they’ve moved to the Hive Stadium in Barnet for the upcoming season and hope for a year of stability. Lawrenson claimed “successful clubs are embedded in the community. With the Broncos regularly changing their franchise name and locating to different parts of London quite frequently this has not happened. They still have a core following from parts of Surrey and Kent but they need to promote the game more and start marketing in north London.”
Lawrenson was confident that rugby league could be a significant sport in the capital but felt with so many sports being played in London it would be difficult to get many into the 13–man game. “London is a city steeped in sporting history and to try and find a place for [rugby] league alongside football, rugby union, cricket and tennis is hard”. Lawrenson added “we try and encourage those who play sports such as basketball and see if they would like the opportunity to play rugby league.”