Castleford are in danger of joining the London Broncos in League Two | Rugby league

WWhen the Super League season began six weeks ago, it was assumed that the London Broncos would be relegated due to their poor IMG rating and a lack of investment in a doomed squad. Far less has been said about the likelihood of Castleford joining them. While new owner Martin Jepson is targeting his investment in areas off the pitch, Castleford have won as many league games as London – none – and are unlikely to receive any IMG reward for their pathetic performances. If the season ended now, Wakefield and Toulouse would certainly finish higher than Castleford and take their (and London’s) places in the Super League next year.

In almost every game they have played this season, the Broncos and Tigers have looked like top-flight Championship sides, doggedly trying to keep up with their Super League opponents before desperately hanging on their coattails and sailing away. It’s not that they’re bad; They are simply second best every week. Injuries didn’t help either side. The Broncos began the season without half a dozen first-team contenders and only one of them has returned, Scotland full-back Alex Walker. He was unusually depressed after the 26-6 home defeat to Huddersfield on Sunday.

Broncos coach Mike Eccles was similarly subdued. “We’re finally getting to grips with the intensity required at the start of games at this level, but it’s about maintaining that,” Eccles said. “Huddersfield increased the intensity and simply robbed us of territory and possession. We only defended our goal line for 40 minutes. While in the Championship a team can attack you on one side, in the Super League you will be tested in every area with every move. Some of these guys are feeling the intensity for the first time ever. You won’t adapt overnight; it is repetition and consistency. We try to manage the intensity and bring depth to the games. Unlike Hull, we don’t put the teams under pressure long enough. This requires an incredible amount of effort. It’s diesel burning to consistently get to the top.”

Both clubs’ pre-season recruitment suggested a massive underspend – potentially just over half of the £2.1m salary cap – and has underlined the need for Super League to introduce a salary cap next year to ensure that the clubs spend a minimum on salaries, perhaps 85%. the cap. Some clubs spend half a million on exceptions above the cap. This winter, Cas released 11 experienced players in their 30s and replaced them with 10 players under 28. Since none of the new recruits have big names, this is serious wage dumping.

The London Broncos were beaten 26-6 by Huddersfield on Sunday. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA

Like London, Castleford have signed Championship gems, Super League backups and under-the-radar imports from Australia’s second tier. So far it hasn’t worked. Despite heroic first-half performances, both teams were beaten 26-6 at home by mid-table opponents over the Easter weekend. After facing four of the competition’s best teams in their opening six games, London embarked on a run against clubs they could have imagined picking up points from before being hit by a series of injuries.

Cas hosts London later this month so at least one of the clubs will avoid replicating Wakefield’s terrible start to last season when they lost their first 14 games. As a former prison officer and four-time Countdown winner, Cas coach Craig Lingard understands the pressure. “This season is different: there is no relegation based on the pitch, so there is no need to panic,” says Lingard. “We don’t need to spend a lot of money to avoid relegation – 70% of our players are not established Super League players and they won’t establish themselves overnight. We can’t judge these guys until Easter.”

Expectations are subterranean in the capital. The majority of their loyal fans are simply happy to see the Super League again, even if they expect a return to the championship soon. The Broncos haven’t had a good start to the season since 2019, but previous seasons have seen midseason additions. There is hardly any sign of that this year. Their only new signings have been young loanees – the impressive Hull KR hooker Reiss Butterworth and strikers Harvey Makin from Wigan and Jacob Jones from Leigh – but they are no more experienced than the players they replace.

“Ideally we would bring in a player who has played 200 games in Super League like other clubs – Hull had Matty Russell and Joe Bullock on loan – but that is not an option for us,” says Eccles. “To recruit a senior player they probably have to have a wife and children and a life in the north, so they can’t just go back home. It is difficult to recruit a player during the season: to do this he has to be quite young and have the opportunity to play in the Super League.”

London still has one overseas base left, but attracting talent to the capital is difficult. “We’ve been reaching out to agents here and in Australia to see what’s available, but there’s not much,” adds Eccles. “We won’t bring in players as good as we have. Last year, Corey Norman and Dean Whare instilled a lot of confidence in the rest of the players and we are looking for a similar influence when we recruit long-term.”

London will pick up further IMG points from vastly improved social media, fan engagement, commercial revenue and increased viewership – although attendance fell from 5,102 in the opening game to 4,116 to 3,324 to 2,300 last Sunday due to four home defeats – and will certainly get it IMG sees the point and gives them more credit for their huge catchment area. But they are still likely to be a few places behind the top flight.

The Tigers are also putting everything on IMG’s side. They are installing 1,719 seats on the Princess Street terraces this month to meet minimum standards and are also making other minor improvements to secure an IMG point for the Jungle. The echoes of Wakefield last year are eerie. The Tigers will need to overtake Leigh, Wakefield or Toulouse to make the breakthrough. It does not look good.

Foreign quota

Huddersfield’s win on Sunday – their 19th successive victory against London – was inspired by the work of their overseas players. Esan Masters exuberantly filled in for Jake Connor at full-back; former Bronco Luke Yates raged through the middle; Tonga half Tui Lolehea was ice cold; and Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama proved that in your mid-30s you can cut off your trademark high high peak and still walk around like a young buck. Sebastien Ikahifo was enjoying his sunny Sunday so much that he rolled forward off the pitch when he was substituted. Really. When Harlequins RL beat Huddersfield in April 2006 in a Harlequins Union/League double-header played in front of 12,000 spectators at the Stoop, they did so with 13 foreign players. That was unremarkable considering the London club often fielded 16 or 17 Antipodeans in their first few years in the Super League. Last Sunday there were only three.

Club reputation: Hunslet RLFC

Lucius Banks was the first American and the first black to play professional rugby league, spending two seasons with Hunslet, then one of Britain’s top clubs, 110 years ago. A Hunslet director had seen Banks at quarterback in New York and tempted him to an adventure in Leeds. His grandson Richard Lucius Banks and his family were guests of honor at Hunslet’s game against Keighley at the weekend. The Lord Mayor of Leeds presented Lucius’s inheritance certificate to the family. “We had limited knowledge of my grandfather’s time here and the important role he plays in the history of the game,” Richard said. Learn more about the remarkable story of Lucius Banks on Professor Tony Collins’ podcast Rugby Reloaded.

Fifth and last

New faces keep appearing in the Super League, but not necessarily new names. The latest is Thomas Deakin, who made his debut as hooker for Huddersfield last Sunday. Thomas is the grandson of Steve Deakin, who coached XIII Catalan when they evolved into the Dragons. “You forget how much it means,” Giants coach Ian Watson said after the game. “His whole family was there. I could hear them screaming as he came back onto the field. His grandpa Steve presented his jersey, which was a very special moment. He is a project. We will develop him further and he will perform again. He has a dangerous running game. I think in a few years he will be the first choice nine.” Deakin’s late uncle Peter, the marketing guru who transformed Bradford Bulls and Saracens, would also have been extremely proud.

Goal line failure

Ten years ago, Huddersfield second rower Jack Murchie, along with Joseph Manu, played for the Australian U19s on the front nine of the Commonwealth Championships in Cumbernauld. Murchie scored a try in a surprise 18-18 draw with Scotland after Harvey Burnett had given the Young Bravehearts an 18-8 lead. Australia were beaten in the final by Papua New Guinea and Scotland defeated an England Lions team featuring current Castleford striker George Lawler to secure fifth place.

Burnett won four caps for Scotland and played for Oxford and Bradford. Unfortunately, he has spent the last five years battling an extremely rare cancer that has baffled experts. He is now going to Germany for dendritic cell therapy and needs help with financing. Amazingly, Harvey is running a 50km race this Saturday. Proceeds from this column go to Harvey’s Fund.

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