London Broncos: Tony Rea's new-look side aim to upset odds

By Rob StevensBBC London & South East Sport
Broncos embrace challenges ahead

In early December, London Broncos were on the brink of administration, homeless and had seen 16 senior players leave the club.

After over a year of searching for a new home - following last January's decision to end their groundshare with Harlequins - there was a real possibility the club's 34-season history would come to an end.

"We were probably dead five times, with no pulse there. I thought it was gone quite a few times," said head coach Tony Rea.

However, in an 11th-hour deal, the capital's Super League club agreed a groundshare at The Hive and a partnership with Barnet FC which saved them from going out of business.

Since the turn of the year Rea has recruited 15 new players for the new campaign, which they get under way at Widnes Vikings on Sunday.

"Despite all the bombs going off around us, the players and the owner have stayed strong and resilient and pushed their way through it," Rea told BBC London 94.9.

"If you look back you go brain dead.

"You'd have liked to have done it different but it wasn't the circumstances. They are what they are."

Rea is a stalwart of the rugby league scene in London.

He ended his playing career with the Broncos in 1996 after a two-year spell in the capital and became chief executive of the club.

The Australian was then head coach from November 2000 until July 2006 and returned to the post in July 2012 when Rob Powell was relieved of his duties.

Having been one of the few people to remain with the Broncos through a redundancy programme as they looked to secure their future, Rea has since added ex-Great Britain international Sean Long and experienced coach Joe Grima to his backroom staff.

A succession of new players have arrived in north London - even in the week leading up to their opening league game the Broncos strengthened their squad, signing three players on Thursday.

"A lot of people do a hell of a lot more than I do but I am trying to make sure they have something to believe in," Rea added.

"I just think the players coming in have been the ones who have really embraced it.

"Sometimes you hear them talking in the sheds about how to build a crowd.

"They are so respectful, so diligent and such quality blokes.

"When you see them get better every day it is worth it. We have got hungry people and we've got determination."

A core of players did continue training in the early weeks of pre-season despite the uncertainty surrounding the club and their own futures.

"There was still a good bunch of lads coming in, even right up to the period where we thought we might have been folding," newly appointed captain Matt Cook said.

"I was staying with [Broncos prop] Olsi Krasniqi at the time as I'd moved out of my house in south-west London. I knew we were either moving to north London or worse I'd be moving back up north with family.

"Luckily Olsi put me up for a while and that shows just what a good set of lads we have got in our team, looking after each other.

"We had trained for quite a period where we still didn't know what the outcome would be. It starts to creep into your mind whether we were doing it for nothing."

The deal with Barnet FC will see the Broncos train at Underhill and play their home matches at The Hive.

Bees owner Tony Kleanthous has never attended a rugby league game but argues the partnership with the Broncos can be beneficial for both clubs, who he believes can "grow together".

"They were in a bad way and needed some help and we were in a position to provide that support," Kleanthous said.

"This was a club where all the infrastructure had gone.

"They have come up like a phoenix from the ashes. I see it as a new beginning."

Having played in south-west London for the last seven years during their groundshare with rugby union side Harlequins, Rea says the switch north of the Thames to Barnet has re-energised their set-up.

"If you are benchmarking against where we have been before, it is very good," Rea added.

"It is in a very good way and people are smiling and enjoying their work. We need to utilise that and keep building.

"It's been funny up here. You just do it. There's been no negative.

"One little nuance I've noticed is that people look at your tracksuit hard when you are walking up the street. It is fun and they're looking at something new in the Broncos and you get lots of questions.

"That gives you a bit of a buzz, a bit of a drive and a bit of pride too."

Despite the difficulties suffered over the winter, the Broncos are keen to not be written off for a season in which relegation has been reintroduced to Super League.

"It spurs all the lads on, even though they are young lads and might not be well recognised at the minute," back row Cook said.

"We don't want to be called rubbish, too young or not good enough. It is more motivation really.

"I know the young guys want to show we are here to contend and will not be an easy ride for anyone."

For Rea, the Super League campaign offers a "great opportunity" for his young side.

"It's not daunting," he said.

"We will run straight towards the few challenges that are in front of us and take them on.

"We haven't written ourselves off. I can understand why people would say that but it won't enter into our thinking.

"The club has gone on for a long time and it has never been plain sailing. It's never been simple."

The Broncos are not short of youth and enthusiasm, but after the adversity off the pitch over the winter they can expect further tests of character this season.

Interviews with Tony Rea, Matt Cook and Tony Kleanthous by BBC London 94.9's Ian Ramsdale.