13th September 2019, 13:24 | southern_conference_league
Everybody in Rugby League knows that this is a big night for London Broncos, as they bid to complete their unlikely Super League survival mission.
But whatever the results at Belle Vue and elsewhere, it’s already been a year of significant progress for the game in the capital, and the south of England as a whole.
In addition to the exploits of Danny Ward’s senior team which have helped to generate an improvement of more than 150% in home attendances in Ealing, the Broncos have also underlined the amount of talent coming through in London, with their Academy team securing a best-ever finish of fifth, with a best-ever total of 12 wins against the finest the north can offer.
This week, the club also relaunched their Origin Series for under-14s, 15s and 16s from north and south of the Thames, reflecting the 26 schools where Rugby League is now played regularly – and they have also relaunched Sky Try in the capital.
But there’s more to Rugby League in London than the Broncos – and that will again be demonstrated just across the Hampshire border this weekend, when the Aldershot Army Rugby Stadium stages the Southern Conference Grand Final.
The Southern Conference was launched by the RFL in the spring to provide a higher level of competition for the leading clubs in London, the South of England and South Wales.
And at the end of a campaign involving more than 80 fixtures and over 540 players, it’s two London clubs – the Chargers from Clapham Common, and Hammersmith Hills Hoists – who have qualified for the title decider.
The Hoists beat another of London’s established amateur clubs, Wests Warriors, in last weekend’s semi finals – while the Chargers claimed a notable scalp of the Valley Cougars in their own South Wales stamping ground.
The Chargers, who were formed by the combination of South London Storm and West London Sharks in 2013, have enjoyed regular success in the London League, Harry Jepson Trophy and Conference League South.
They have previous experience of Aldershot, having lost a hard-fought 2018 Challenge Cup second round tie against the Army, and Mike Butcher, their acting chairman, said: “The lads are buzzing for Saturday. We've been building really well during the play-offs, so we're feeling pretty good. But we know Hoists are a quality side. We've learned that the hard way the last two Grand Finals, and we'll be using that as motivation.
“The title of best team outside the North is up for grabs, which makes this final that bit more special. The game will go down to one or two crunch plays - which is what Rugby League should be about.”
The Hills Hoists were established at the end of 2008 by Australian ex-pats living in London, and looking for a regular RL outlet in the West London areas of Hammersmith, Acton and Shepherds Bush.
They are proud to have had players from over 16 countries wear the club’s colours, and they and welcome all potential new players from first timers, to former NRL and representative players.
Club stalwart Nathan Mann said: "The boys should be proud of themselves for making a Grand Final for the fourth straight year. We’ve struggled for depth at times this season but the team has fired when it’s mattered most.
"The Chargers are always hard to beat but hopefully we have one more good performance left in us and we can bring home the silverware.”
The big game will be preceded by the Plate Final for the East Division between Hemel Stags and Eastern Rhinos.
Bob Brown, the long-standing Hemel chairman, said: "The Stags’ decision to make community rugby league its prime focus from 2019 & onwards has brought dividends to the club. Of great satisfaction is the knowledge that 12 of our squad are products of Hemel's long standing schools, junior and youth programme."
The Rhinos are based in Essex, and had an impressive semi final win against North Herts Crusaders.
Southern Conference Grand Final: Hammersmith Hills Hoists v London Chargers (3pm – live on RFL Facebook HERE)
Eastern Division Plate Final: Hemel Stags v Eastern Rhinos (1pm)