Championship side London Broncos will move to a part-time set-up for the 2022 season onwards, as they prepare for a reduced central funding distribution.
Broncos had been running as a full-time operation despite relegation from Super League in 2019.
The club parted company with coach Danny Ward this season as hopes of a top-flight return did not materialise.
Super League’s reduced television deal has meant a smaller drip-down sum of money for the lower divisions to share.
From what had previously been a total of £40m divided between Super League and then a chunk filtered down, from 2022 it is believed to be closer to £25-30m.
From that, Super League interim chairman Ken Davy says about £5m will be handed to the Rugby Football League, who will filter the funds through to Championship and League One clubs.
In a statement, Broncos said: “Financially, the club will be receiving a vastly reduced central distribution in 2022 and we have had to make changes to offset this reduction which has led to the decision that has been taken by the club.
“The London Broncos will increase the level of financial input into our highly successful Academy and Scholarship programme as well as work with the Community game in London and the South East to continue to develop professional rugby league players as we take the opportunity to restructure the club ahead of our planned move to Plough Lane in 2022.
“Off the field a huge amount of work is being undertaken in several areas to ensure that rugby league in London continues to thrive and that the Broncos are able to return stronger for a promotion push in seasons to come with a squad littered with home grown players and a solid supporter base in our new home.”
Matt Newsum, BBC rugby league commentator
This is sad news for rugby league, as it hugely impacts on the likely chance of London Broncos winning their way into Super League and giving the capital elite-level representation under the current format.
Just two years ago, Danny Ward’s side made a mighty fist of staying up after their shock promotion against Toronto Wolfpack. However, they came up just short on the final day and that team has been picked off by the ‘vultures’ – Rob Butler, Jay Pitts, Eddie Battye, Jordan Abdull and Rhys Williams among those now flying in the top flight.
And, after Covid-19 robbed the Broncos of their chance to bounce back at the first attempt amid a curtailed season, 2021 has seen Ward depart the club while the likes of Halifax and Batley have leapfrogged them in the bid to hang on the coat-tails of Toulouse and Featherstone – the Championship’s ambitious frontrunners.
The news that more investment is to be pumped into the academy and grassroots of London’s consistently impressive rugby league infrastructure will ensure that participation is given the best chance to thrive.
There is also some optimism that they can end their nomadic search for a true base when they become tenants of League One side AFC Wimbledon at the new Plough Lane – another club who know a thing or two about finding a spiritual home.
That move could be a springboard, perhaps generating bigger crowds, and more money into the coffers. It is testament to owner David Hughes that they have been in the mix for so long as he continues to put his money in with all the challenges of running a club in an ‘expansion’ area.
It will sadly mean that hungry, talented young Londoners will have to fly the nest to reach the top end of the game. Just ask former Croydon Hurricanes back-rower Kai Pearce-Paul at Wigan – the latest exceptional talent to make a breakthrough at Super League level. A lad who has been likened to Sonny Bill Williams, no less.
What might give London hope in the long run is that there are those calling for a revamp of the game, an overhaul of the structure. Two tiers of 10 to replace the existing structure, with the potential selection of those clubs based around added value. London, with its metropolis status and widespread youth programme, would be a candidate.
For now, the dreams of a competitive presence in the top flight might have to wait a while.