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Bury Broncos development has seen them buck the trend...and the old guard
THERE is a refreshing buzz about Bury Broncos rugby league club – the kind you might expect for an organisation with one of the youngest committees in the game.
This is well illustrated by the Broncos’ under-16s team, who have established themselves as a force in the North West League Division Three in their age group, finishing fourth after starting the summer season with a team of largely novice players.
And the youngsters have just been rewarded by a £500 award from the Bury Times, which has been used to pay for new playing kit.
“They got beaten quite comfortably in their first three of four games,” said 27-year-old Broncos secretary Ryan Lewis.
“There was only one or two of them who had played the game before.
“Westhoughton Lions beat them in their first game and we beat them quite easily a couple of weeks ago. The progress they have made has been fantastic.”
That talent has not gone unnoticed among the upper reaches of the game, with scouts from several Super League clubs keeping a close eye on the youngsters.
“One of our former u16s, Mike Kenworthy, is on the books of Salford,” said Lewis.
“Scouts have been down a few times looking at various players and a few of them have been marked out as having ability, now it’s a case of seeing how they grow and how their frame is going to develop.
“It’s not just a question of how good they are, but do they have the size and frame? Do they look like people who could be absolute beasts because that’s what you need to be at Super Leage level now. If you’re 6ft 4ins and can run 100m in under 10 seconds, and you’ve got the bulk to take a hit on top of that, you could be pretty decent.”
But it is not just the u16s the club is developing. The Broncos are aiming to have teams playing at all possible age levels, working tirelessly in schools, including the one where they are based – Philips High in Whitefield.
“We’re helping by playing teams where there is viability and interest,” said Lewis.
“Philips High School is one of them. They enter the emerging schools competitions and we go in and see if we can help and see if there is anything we can do to help them grow.
“That’s how we were able to field an u16s team week in and week out. There wasn’t quite enough for the u14s to form, but it’s a question of keeping going.
“It’s a little bit like trying to generate a snowball effect. People get involved and if they’re enjoying it, they recommend it to their friends. It’s a really good way of rolling things along.
“Next year we should have an u16s, u18s, u10s, and u11s. If we’ve got a team for every two-year age group, we can open our doors essentially to anyone who want to play rugby.”
The rugby league/union divide is not an issue that troubles the Broncos. The gradual transition to a summer game is not one which the Bury club regrets, but Lewis accepts the game is still adapting.
“A hell of a lot of our players turned out for Bury RUFC seconds and thirds last year, which is something which could not happen if we were both playing in winter,” said Lewis.
“If people are enjoying themselves and playing rugby, it’s all good as far as I’m concerned.”
Meanwhile, the Broncos first team could achieve promotion to the North West Men’s League Division Three after finishing fourth in the division.
They face a trip to league winners Orrell St James on Saturday, with the victors going into the final.
The problem of walkovers, which occur when clubs cannot raise a team, has dogged the 13-team division this year, but Lewis and his organising partners are pragmatic about the problem this causes.
“What happens is that a lot of teams start the season and think if they get to the play-offs all the union players they’ve got will stay around because they’ll want to win something,” explained Lewis.
“The clubs gamble that they’ll still be there at the end, and when they realise they’re dropping off the pace in the league, the players drift off and they’re unable to raise a team.
“They go back to their union teams and don’t see out the league season which is a shame for the sport as whole, because you can’t really found a club based on ifs and maybes.”
The Broncos long-term ambition is one day to have their own ground and clubhouse in the Bury area.
“It would be great to have our own permanent base,” added Lewis.
“It’s great working within the school, but you want your own patch and set up.
“It would bring ourselves in line with a proper heartland rugby club, because Bury’s never really been a rugby league stronghold and we’re travelling now to teams in Wigan and St Helens and beating them.”