Friday, 6 April 2012

From our London correspondent: Rob Powell must go

Chris Plume argues that, if London Broncos have any hope of off-pitch survival (not to mention securing a place in the next round of franchising) the first step is firing Head Coach Rob Powell.
‘lacking in ideas’
‘listless and unimaginative’
‘Powell is a total loser with no presence about him’
All the above are comments on the RLFANS London Broncos forum, in the aftermath of the Broncos’ “big derby” defeat to arch-rivals Catalan Dragons at The Stoop on Thursday April 5. It marked an eighth defeat in the opening ten rounds for the Capital club, in front of a recorded home attendance of 1,829.
It sums up the Broncos’ travails this campaign. In the run-up to the season, we were seduced with talk of a “new era” at the club, with the re-brand from Harlequins RL back to London Broncos (a move that divided fans but that the club insisted was vital if we were to make progress). New signings were much trumpeted – big, shiny transfers of genuine pedigree, such as two-time NRL winners Michael Robertson and Shane Rodney, and one-time Australia skipper and former Rugby Union star Craig Gower. We were told that the top eight was in our sights. There was a move of cautious optimism.
And it was all quite nice. For a while. Nearly 5,000 spectators attended the season’s opener, a 34-24 home defeat to St Helens, and there some encouraging signs in the performance to suggest we would compete. Unfortunately, it has proven to be a completely false dawn. And ultimately, the blame must rest with one man. Rob Powell.

I have given Powell time. Throughout a pretty painful 2011 season, where we won just three of our home games (and won just two matches after March 11), we consoled ourselves with the fact that Powell was dealing with the weakest London squad since the infamous “Great Escape” season of 2004 under Tony Rea. We told ourselves “well, at least we’re shot of Brian McDermott”. We gave Powell the benefit of the doubt that, the following season, with a better team at his disposal, we would see the improvement.
How wrong we were. Not only has Powell proved utterly deficient in guiding this group of players, but McDermott gave us a look at exactly what we’d let leave by winning the Grand Final with Leeds. One gets the sense Mac, for all his faults, would get a damn sight more out of this team than Powell ever will.
A third of the way through the season, the problems are many and varied. The team simply cannot defend, particularly out wide; The halfback combination isn’t working; With ball in hand, we are repetitive and predictable (we don’t seem to be capable of employing dummy runners); we suffer devastating lapses in concentration which opponents ruthlessly exploit – conceding four tries in ten minutes to the Dragons a perfect illustration; Players like Luke Dorn seem to have lost all their skill and composure, and their confidence looks shot as a result.
Our problems off the pitch are well documented, and I don’t wish to address them here. But what I will say is this: One of the main reasons our crowds are terrible is because our performances are, so often, terrible. You can have the greatest marketing guru in the world ensconced in TW2, but they would not get very far if the product is awful. Beyond a hardcore of around 1100 season ticket holders, we are unable to attract or retain supporters because the team is hopeless and as a result, the matchday experience is flat and uninspiring.
Catastrophic away defeats to Salford and Widnes have been the nadir of the 2012 season, but if Powell is allowed to continue I cannot say we will not sink further.  He has shown himself to be completely unable to extract even a modicum of consistency and competence from a group of players that, on paper, mix excitement, nous, youth and experience. More worrying is the message that the club is sending by retaining the services of this man: That this is a club that tolerates complete incompetence, that rewards failure, that accepts mediocrity.
I want to stress it is nothing personal; Powell is a nice bloke I’m sure, and has done good things for London Rugby League with South London Storm. But it is clear as day that, as a man who never played the game professionally and is younger than a significant number of our players, he is utterly out of his depth. There are better coaches available (Royce Simmons immediately springs to mind) and they must be utilised.
The club is making losses, we have no media profile, no sponsors, and we have not made the play-offs since 2005. Our future, and our licensing prospects, are hanging by a thread. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. Powell must go, and a coach must be brought in who can inspire this talented group of players to achieve better, win more matches and make this club one that people actually want to go and watch. When gnarled old veterans of the London rugby league following are saying that they cannot remember a London club playing so poorly, that is not simple bluster. That is an indication of the beginning of the end.
David Hughes, Gus Mackay – please act now. There is no time to lose.

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