London Broncos appear to have been doomed to spending a single season back in the Betfred Super League under rugby league’s new grading criteria which will determine the composition of the top flight from 2025 onwards.
The Broncos, who stunned Toulouse to clinch promotion via the Championship Grand Final earlier month, have been ranked a lowly 24th in the indicative grades which were released by RL Commercial and their strategic partner, the sports media giant IMG, on Wednesday.
Under the new criteria, promotion and relegation will be axed next year and replaced by a system which awards points across five key factors including support base, performance, finances, facilities and community integration – with the top 12 scorers automatically assuming a Super League place.
Indicative Club Gradings have been announced pic.twitter.com/1H2jp2gaHi
— Rugby Football League (@TheRFL) October 25, 2023
Seven clubs – Leeds, Wigan, St Helens, Catalans Dragons, Warrington, Hull KR and Hull FC – have been awarded Grade A status, which effectively makes them immune to relegation, with the remaining places allocated to the best-scoring Grade B clubs.
London scored just 8.07 out of a possible 25 under the new metric, leaving them, for example, six places below Newcastle Thunder, who resigned from the league and declared themselves unsustainable in the wake of relegation from the Championship last month.
IMG vice-president Matt Dwyer, who is heading the project, denied it was impossible for London to stay up but conceded: “Across all categories London need to be improving, (and) there’s plenty of room for them to improve.
“I would suggest that in 2024 they will be wanting to perform as well as they can to move along that path to being a category A club, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
The Broncos’ score represented another blow for the sport in the capital, long championed as a “key area for growth” by rugby league chiefs, following the loss of London Skolars at the end of last season.
The Broncos failed to make significant inroads despite spending 14 consecutive seasons in the top flight following the advent of Super League in 1996, playing at a number of different venues including their current home at Plough Lane.
In a measured statement, Broncos chairman David Hughes said: “While accepting the score given, we will now look to work together as a club to improve on this score with the long-term ambition of achieving an A grade.
“Following the magnificent success of securing promotion from the Championship last season the club now looks to build on the strong foundations we have built in Wimbledon and last year’s achievements on the pitch, as we look to establish London Broncos as a Super League club now and in years to come.”
Dwyer also is refusing to give up on the prospect of establishing a permanent Super League force in London, adding: “Interest and participation is still quite high in London, so it still has the base that should make it a core market going forward.
“All that has been identified is the challenge we have to grow the market based off that score for London. It’s a hard market to crack and it’s a market we’ve tried to crack for a long time. It has the right ingredients, but we have to put those ingredients together and bake the cake.”
Based on the current rankings, which have been released in order to give clubs just under a year to address issues and potentially move up the table which will be released at the end of next season, Toulouse and Wakefield would be promoted back into Super League at the expense of London and 13th-placed Castleford.
Castleford have indicated they intend to appeal their indicative grade based on confusion over a point relating to finance, which if accepted would move them into the top 12 at the expense of Challenge Cup winners Leigh Leopards.
Championship winners Featherstone, who lost to the Broncos in their play-off semi-final, also expressed concern over the grading criteria which appear to diminish their own long-held hopes of reaching the top flight.
Featherstone rank 15th on the current list with a score of 10.65, meaning only a prospective expansion of Super League to 14 teams would give them a realistic chance of promotion.
In a wide-ranging statement, Featherstone questioned the weighting of some of the criteria towards what it called “future promises of potential” and said it was deflecting from deeper issues within the game.
📊 𝙄𝙈𝙂 𝙂𝙍𝘼𝘿𝙄𝙉𝙂
Featherstone Rovers have been awarded a B rating in the indicative grading process. This has no bearing on our position in 2024.
— Featherstone Rovers (@FevRoversRLFC) October 25, 2023
“The leaders of the game, including key partners such as IMG, should urgently refocus its attentions on the marketing of the game rather than waste any more time on looking at structures and scoring systems,” said the statement.
“The excitement and jeopardy of our game is driven by what happens on the pitch, as has been admirably shown by London Broncos in their run to Super League.
“We have been promised that this would be at the forefront of the strategy under IMG – we remain unconvinced.”