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London ready to test the water away from home

London Broncos are ready to test the water away from their Twickenham base in a bid to boost worrying attendances.
London ready to test the water away from home
by NRL

London Broncos are ready to test the water away from their Twickenham base in a bid to boost worrying attendances.

The Broncos are taking Sunday's Stobart Super League game against Bradford Bulls to Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road ground and will use Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium as the venue for their match against Hull FC a fortnight later.

The decision to once more go 'on the road' was taken before the start of the season but the club's chief executive Gus Mackay admits this year's disappointing crowds have brought the experiment into sharp focus.

"It's about taking the game to new areas to try and attract some new audiences," said Mackay, a former Zimbabwean cricketer.

"We won't really know until we see the results but there is a view that there is untapped potential in London and the south-east.

"Rather than dragging supporters to us, we decided to take games to them and see if they support us."

After finishing in the bottom three of Super League in each of the last two seasons, the Londoners had hoped to transform their fortunes with a rebranding and an increase in spending up to the salary cap following a renewed commitment from long-term backer David Hughes.

But last year's average attendance of 3,132 under the Harlequins RL banner - the worst of the 14 teams in Super League - has dropped even further for the five home games under the Broncos so far and twice they drew fewer than 2,000 spectators.

Mackay admits that disappointing performances by the team, despite the influx of proven overseas talent of the calibre of dual-code international Craig Gower and NRL grand finalists Shane Rodney and Michael Robertson, have been a major factor.

"What has happened on the pitch has had an impact off it," he said.

"We got 5,000 for our first game and it's just dropped off.

"It's obviously concerning and I think the timing now is quite good. For our on-the-road games, we're hoping for at least more than we've been getting.

"We'll see what happens but, if we can get 3,000-plus on Sunday, we would be pleased. It would give us a foundation and platform to build on and Gillingham will be better than that."

With London's tenancy agreement at the Twickenham Stoop expiring this year, it is not inconceivable that the once-nomadic club could again be on the move, although not to the Olympic Stadium as has been mooted.

"We've got to be careful," added Mackay. "We're in negotiations (with landlords Harlequins) at the moment.

"We've got to see what comes out of the Olympics - there might be certain venues looking for partners in the current economic climate.

"This is an opportunity to do some proper market research. It's all right carrying out research but this will give us a real feel for what's out there.

"The Olympic Stadium hasn't hit our radar. I know it's been talked about but we've not had any discussions."

Mackay, 44, who played three one-day internationals for his country, is comparatively new to rugby league after carving out an administrative career in cricket with Leicestershire, Sussex and Surrey but he believes there is a future for the game in the capital.

"I've been here 18 months now and it is a challenge," he said. "I always knew it would be.

"But what I do know is that it's a fantastic sport. It's a really exciting game that is affordable.

"David Hughes made a commitment to the length of the licence period and our job is to make sure we have a winning team to repay him.

"We thought the rebrand was the right thing to do and we restructured the squad, although it's taken longer to gel than we hoped.

"But I see a huge opportunity in London. The work that is going on at grassroots level is very exciting.

"If we were solely reliant on imports, I would be really worried but we've lots of players coming through the system, which bodes well for the future. But the process still takes time."

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