THE RFL and IMG are coming under fire after today’s announcement from London Broncos that they will not be running their elite academy from next season.

Three Betfred Championship clubs began the 2023 season with an elite academy, Bradford Bulls, Newcastle Thunder and the Broncos.

But with Thunder restructuring their youth set-up this summer, before folding at the end of the season, and now this announcement from London, Bradford are the only club of the trio still running theirs.

Surprisingly, given how much goes into a club’s IMG ranking, they are not rewarded for running an elite academy, so despite that being a route for so much young talent to come through at London, the club have decided to put their focus on to other areas to improve their score.

When the indicative gradings were revealed last month, the biggest shock came in the form of the Broncos, who despite having just being promoted to Super League, were ranked a miserable 24th out of the 35 clubs in the top three divisions of rugby league, meaning top-flight relegation is virtually guaranteed next season, no matter how well they perform on the field.

To chairman David Hughes’ credit, he refused to sulk about the situation, and confirmed the club will work with the RFL and IMG to increase their ranking score.

In a statement released earlier today, the Broncos said: “Following extensive consultation, London Broncos can confirm a restructure to the academy and reserve teams for 2024.

“From next season the club has made the decision not to run its ‘Elite Academy’.

“However we will continue to run a pathway programme up to Under-18 level, using the ‘RFL Lions Development Programme’ to continue developing rugby league players in London.

“Further details will be released on this once dates are finalised for 2024. In the meantime we will continue to run a programme in local schools.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Rugby league in London is now having to take something of a different path.Rugby league in London is now having to take something of a different path. (Image: Tom Pearson.)

The Broncos insisted this decision does not change their commitment to developing young players in the capital, saying: “As a club, we still believe in and support the growth of rugby league in London and will continue to help develop players, but in a different way.

“The academy costs the club roughly £250,000 per year to run, at a cost which has been completely self-funded.

“The reserve team will be unaffected by the restructure and we will continue to run a reserve team in the Super League reserve competition.

“We believe that the reserves competition is vital in the development of players, as the sport is a late developing sport, so players need playing opportunities at an older age.”

Re-affirming their commitment to getting on board with rugby league’s new era, the Broncos added: “Following the recent IMG grading announcement, in which we received a category B grading, we released a statement to confirm we are wholly committed to working with the RFL and IMG to improve our grading.

“We recognise that this will take time and commitment and therefore have taken that difficult decision to not run the ‘Elite Academy’ in 2024.

“All affected parties have been informed and we stress that this is something we will continue to review and could look to revisit in future years.

“With the new IMG grading criteria, clubs are not directly rewarded for running an ‘Elite Academy’, so we will focus on other areas to improve the club, with the long-term aim of becoming ‘Category A’.

“As a club, we are proud of our track record of creating opportunities to play rugby league and for providing a pathway to play professional sport in the capital.”