Scot’s Bron­cos on brink of ‘mil­lion-pound game’

Brave­hearts’ vet­eran says in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence has helped him re­vive club

The Herald - Herald Sport - - RUGBY LEAGUE - KEVIN FER­RIE

HIS birth cer­tifi­cate reads “Torquay, Devon” and his ac­cent is fair dinkum Aussie, but An­drew Hen­der­son’s pas­sion for the land of his Glaswe­gian fa­ther’s birth is ev­i­dent in his ev­ery ref­er­ence to the Scot­land rugby league team he rep­re­sented for a decade.

He speaks warmly of how – along with broth­ers Ian and Kevin, who have also rep­re­sented Scot­land – he was reared on square sausage and tra­di­tional folk mu­sic and while the rugby com­mu­nity may feel they have heard it all be­fore, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­cause, in what is iron­i­cally al­most a throw­back to the other code’s ama­teur days, the risk for play­ers such as these in rep­re­sent­ing Scot­land so hugely out­weighs any re­ward that it be­comes neg­li­gi­ble.

Some even find them­selves at odds with man­age­ment at their Aus­tralian NRL and Su­per League clubs who would pre­fer they stay out of harm’s way and ex­tend their close sea­sons, but for the likes of Hen­der­son, that is just an­other ob­sta­cle to be ne­go­ti­ated.

“Just be­cause we weren’t born there doesn’t mean we think of Scot­land any less,” he said pug­na­ciously, in look­ing ahead to Scot­land’s forth­com­ing Four Na­tions meet­ings on suc­ces­sive week­ends with the big three – Aus­tralia, Eng­land and New Zea­land.

“At the end of a long, hard sea­son for a player you want to go on hol­i­day, but all these boys put their hands up to play for Scot­land for peanuts. They just cover ex­penses re­ally, which isn’t right.

“It’s the big­gest com­pe­ti­tion in the world and com­pared with the big, big dol­lars the Aus­tralian, English and New Zea­land play­ers will pick up for the matches they play, our guys will get next to noth­ing, but they’re will­ing to put their bod­ies on the line for the coun­try.

“It hurts me a lit­tle bit that we don’t get the recog­ni­tion I feel we de­serve be­cause I think it’s a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment.”

Hen­der­son’s val­ues as an in­di­vid­ual have also stood him in good stead in tak­ing on the near bas­ket case of a club that was Lon­don Bron­cos last year.

He had al­ready gone into coach­ing with com­mu­nity club Sh­effield Hal­lam Ea­gles when, in 2013, he was part of the Scot­land team that reg­is­tered a string of shock re­sults in reach­ing that year’s World Cup quar­ter-fi­nals and he was re­cruited to the Bron­cos man­age­ment in 2014, spend­ing nine months as an as­sis­tant coach be­fore be­ing asked to take charge. The task was vast, but a shrewd move to the bor­ough of Eal­ing, where there is no Pre­mier League foot­ball team and a large pop­u­la­tion cen­tre (circa 340,000) of­fered the chance to do what rugby league does best in be­com­ing cen­tral to a com­mu­nity.

“It’s been a tur­bu­lent few years,” Hen­der­son ob­served. The big thing for me was about try­ing to bring the club to­gether. I felt last sea­son it was just a team in Lon­don, it wasn’t a club, so the big fo­cus was try­ing to bring ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

His ef­forts have taken them to the brink of a re­turn to elite level with this week­end’s meet­ing with Sal­ford Reds ef­fec­tively an elim­i­na­tor for what rugby league bills its “mil­lion pound game”, a play-off for the last place in next sea­son’s Su­per League.

The odds are heav­ily against them ver­sus an es­tab­lished Su­per League side loaded with highly paid play­ers and, any­way, it is prob­a­bly a sea­son too soon for the Bron­cos to go up, but that will not stop Hen­der­son from urg­ing his men to fight tooth and nail.

In do­ing so, he will feed off his in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. “The good thing about Scot­land is that we’ve al­ways been the un­der­dogs and we’ve kind of used that,” he said. “I’ve drawn a bit of that from there, the feel­ing that you’re not seen as a pow­er­house, you’re just con­sid­ered a small na­tion that’s never go­ing to achieve any­thing and we’ve kind of taken that per­son­ally and de­cided we were go­ing to prove

IN­SPIRED: Scot­land in ac­tion against New Zea­land in the quar­ter-fi­nal of the 2013 Rugby World Cup.

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