29th October 2020, 14:17 | londonbroncos
London Broncos Head Coach Danny Ward has started his 2021 recruitment in a place he has the best possible knowledge of, the club's own academy.
As his sights turn to targets around the UK and beyond, Ward was first keen to bolster his squad with five young players he has been monitoring for some time and firmly believes can go all the way for the Broncos.
Jonah Verella, Josh Hodson, Will Blakemore, Rob Oakley and Jacob Jones have all signed first team contracts with the club and will join the first team set up for pre-season training in November.
The signing of these five players takes the home-grown element of the Broncos first team squad to around 70%, which is something Ward is immensely proud of.
Talking of the clubs focus on youth development and the importance of the London Broncos Academy, he said: “Alongside retaining our out of contract 1st team players, promoting our own Academy graduates was top priority in planning for 2021.
"We believe in producing our own players and a squad made up of over 70% home grown lads is something we are immensely proud of.
"It takes a big investment of time and energy to do this, but we have seen the success this brings the club over the years and we’ll continue to do so.
"As well as the current squad, you only have to turn Sky on at a weekend and see Super League littered with Broncos Academy graduates.
"This is just the start of the next chapter for these lads, there is plenty of hard work ahead, but they have shown the right attributes so far and we look forward to seeing their progress continue”.
"Whilst his attention now turns to completing deals on several long-term targets elsewhere, Ward was quick to point out that the door is always open to young players who progress through the club’s impressive pathway from Community clubs to Academy.
Ward added: "We have loads of kids playing the game over a huge area down here in the south and we want to provide the best pathway we can for these lads to achieve their potential.
"Credit must go to all the volunteers in the community game in the South, Head of Youth, Rob Powell and all the Scholarship and Academy Coaches involved in these player’s development”.
Josh Hodson, a Telford Raiders product from the Midlands generally plays as a centre and was delighted to agree terms with the Broncos for 2021.
He said: "I’m really excited to be making the step up from the reserves to the first team squad this year and cannot wait to get back into training with the team.”
Jonah Verella only started playing Rugby when he was around 15 and has already gained a wide range of experience in that short space of time playing for Eastern Rhinos, but perhaps more interestingly the Peruvian National Team including at the Olympic 7s Qualifiers in Chile.
An outside back, who played for the Broncos Academy, Jonah will look to grab this chance with both hands and said: "I’m over the moon that Danny asked me to join the 2021 first team squad and I cannot wait to dig in and show him what I can do.”
Starting his Rugby League journey with the Birmingham Bulldogs, and representing Crosfields ARLFC and the Midlands Hurricanes along the way, Jacob Jones should be no stranger to the Broncos fans who have followed our Academy.
Jones has also represented the England University team and sees the step up to the first team squad as the perfect way to further his development.
He said: "I am really looking forward to the challenge of stepping up to the next level and improving all aspects of my game. I cannot wait to get back into training and showing the staff and players what I can do."
Another former Eastern Rhino, Will Blakemore, is happy to play anywhere in the forwards but prefers the loose forward position.
Achieving a professional contract has been in the sights of Blakemore for a long time so he was naturally excited to be given the opportunity by the Broncos coaching staff. He commented: "This is something I have wanted to do since my first year of college and I can’t wait to see what the season has in store for me."
The fifth signing, Rob Oakley, first picked up a ball when he was 9 years old playing at Braintree RFC and stayed with the club until senior Rugby where he made the switch to the Eastern Rhinos.
Playing in the London Origin side, Rob was spotted by the Broncos and joined the Academy system in 2017.
Oakley has played as a half back but more recently converted to Hooker and feels that is when he has started to enjoy his rugby the most.
When asked about making the leap into the Broncos first team squad, Rob said: “I am absolutely over the moon to sign my first full time contract with the London Broncos, it’s what I have been working so hard for ever since my first session back in 2017. Now that the opportunity has come about, I can’t wait to get stuck into pre-season with the boys and enjoy my first year of first grade rugby.”