Morgan Smith’s late try gives Hull victory and denies spirited Broncos

<span>Morgan Smith’s late try gave Hull FC their first win of 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Greig Cowie/Shutterstock</span>
Morgan Smith’s late try gave Hull FC their first win of 2024.Photograph: Greig Cowie/Shutterstock

Being 200 miles away from the sport’s traditional heartlands, London Broncos have never been strangers to a unique rugby league situation. But even by their standards this season is completely unprecedented given the reality that, no matter what the Broncos do upon their return to Super League in 2024, they will be asked to quietly collect their belongings and leave later this year.

With only the top 12 clubs in IMG’s grading system given a seat at the top table in 2025, the fact Broncos were ranked 24th in the provisional rankings at the end of last season – below clubs such as Batley and Doncaster – means they simply will not improve enough on and, more importantly, off the field in one season to climb into the top 12. Even winning the grand final, unlikely as it would be, would not be enough to save them.

So it means that, after their surprise promotion last season, this is guaranteed to be a one-season sojourn back in the spotlight for Broncos. They are, however, determined to silence their harshest critics, who believe this squad – containing a large core of southern-based players, some of whom are part-time – will struggle to win a single game this year, matching Halifax’s record of zero points in 2003.

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That feat remains possible after their third defeat in as many games but they will have earned plenty of admirers for a spirited performance on Sunday. With seconds remaining Broncos were destined for their first win of 2024, leading Hull FC by two points after Robbie Storey’s dramatic interception try put the away side ahead with only four minutes remaining. However, Broncos wilted in the final moments and Morgan Smith’s try meant it was Hull who recorded their first win of 2024.

If IMG awarded points for effort and endeavour on the field, Broncos would rank highly. With more than half of their side produced by their academy, and brought up in the south of England, Mike Eccles is adamant that whatever happens this season Broncos are building for a more prosperous and stable future. Broncos have a permanent home in Wimbledon, where more than 5,000 watched them play Catalans Dragons last week: the highest crowd in the capital for a decade.

The reality is, though, that this will be a chastening year, and in the rare moments where opportunities to secure victories present themselves Broncos have to take them. This will undoubtedly go down as a missed opportunity to get up and running; they took an early 4-0 lead through a try from James Meadows try but by half-time they were 16-4 behind courtesy of tries from Hull’s Nick Staveley, Matty Russell and Lewis Martin, the last coming from an interception just as the visitors were pushing to score.

But while this Broncos squad may not be the most talented, it is not short on spirit. That was evident at multiple stages in the second half, firstly when tries from Lee Kershaw and Hakim Miloudi narrowed the deficit to two points. Hull went further in front when Jack Brown scored, but Miloudi’s second made it a four-point gap heading into the final minutes. Then, from nowhere, Storey plucked a Hull pass from mid-air and raced the length of the pitch, with Oli Leyland’s touchline conversion putting Broncos ahead. However, they would be left crestfallen with seconds remaining when Smith cut through a gap in a tiring defensive line to snatch victory.

Eccles would not agree but, really, victory would not have changed too much. The priority for Broncos is making sure they take full advantage of their one season in the spotlight. Exposing their core of young talent to Super League on a weekly basis, putting in full-blooded displays every week and convincing people in the capital there is a rugby league project worth buying into so that they can return to the top flight and eye up a longer, more successful stay must be the aims. On that basis, this afternoon seemed like a big step forward for a club with an uncertain future.