It's been another great year for the Brunel Rugby League team. We regained our South-East championship title, and made huge strides towards growing the stature of the club within the University.
The BRL committee knew we had to start the year strong, as a huge amount of players left the University last summer, including a number of key men. We had a strong presence at Fresher's Week, and recruited well. However, with a number of recruitments being new to Rugby League, or even rugby in general, we expected a transitional year.
We had mixed results at the annual pre-season 9's tournament, winning and losing a number of games across the two teams we put out. But most importantly, we had the opportunity to blood our new recruits in a competitive environment, and it worked a treat.
The first league game of the season came at home to the old rival, St. Mary's (second team). What better way to make a statement of intent than to beat our West London rivals straight out of the gates, and make a statement we did. Whilst the game was tough at times, we stormed out the 46-24 victors.
By this time training was in full swing, the new boys had settled in well and everyone was feeling fit and ready to go. New coach James Massara helped the team massively, bringing expert knowledge to the inexperienced players and providing training that benefited both fitness and core skills.
The second game of the year was up next and it was just as tough as the first, an away day at Reading. The tie was neck and neck almost the entire way, until around the 65th minute when Brunel captain and star player Malikhi Lloyd-Jones was sent off. But this simply rallied the Big Dogs, and we showed the spirit of future champions to push on and take the game at the death, finishing victorious by 32 points to 24.
Brunel then brushed aside Essex by 48 points in mid-November, continuing their 100% start to the season. Next we travelled away to the enemy, St. Mary's, but this tie was much simpler than the last – we went home with a 38-16 victory and had completed the double on our Varsity rivals.
The home tie versus Reading in December proved to be no easier than the away game, and it was an intense, physical clash for the entire 80 minutes. But once again it was the Big Dogs coming out on top, winning the game 24-14.
That made 5 wins in 5 games for Brunel, and safe to say confidence was sky high. We knew that Cambridge were now our only title rivals, and our full attention turned to them. We came back from the winter break ready to claim our title, but Cambridge themselves had other ideas.
We travelled to Cambridgeshire on the 21st January fully focused, but Cambridge had clearly kept their fitness better than us Brunelians over the holidays, and their superior physicality paid off. We suffered our first league loss of the season by 48-24, and it was heart-breaking.
But you don’t win titles by lying down at every setback, and we knew the league title was still in our own hands – so when Cambridge came to Brunel for the reverse fixture on February 4th, we knew what we had to do. And what a game it turned out to be.
We took a narrow lead in the first half, as Ibrahim Kabia assisted 3 huge tries (with another to come later) and proving to be an invaluable playmaker.
But the second period started awfully, and two early tries for Cambridge put them in a winning position, and suddenly the whole campaign was falling apart. But we had not lost at home this season, and we were not about to now. Two hard-fought tries inside the final 10 minutes gave Brunel the emotional victory and all but sealed our championship status.
We'd scored 238 points in our 7 games, with a team made mostly of new players, and the league season finished with a walkover of Essex after they failed to field a team.
The Big Dogs were champions again!
After a few weeks well-deserved rest, the team went back at it to prepare for Varsity and for promotion play-off games. Varsity certainly didn't go our way, unfortunately, but we're confident we can put in a strong showing next year.
We played Swansea on Wednesday 15th April in the first of our our two play-off games, sadly losing in an extremely tough, but enjoyable battle under the Spring sunshine. We are yet to play the final game of the season, the second play-off versus Oxford, which is sure to be another tight, competitive match-up.
So despite a disappointing few weeks, the season as a whole has been extremely fun and very successful. Our strong recruiting and coaching has helped us through what could have been a difficult year, and turned it into one of our best yet. Gaining another strong set of new players in September could be the turning point for Brunel Rugby League to become a real force in the BUCS leagues.
So thanks to James Massara and Student Rugby League for all their help throughout the season, to BUS, and to the entire committee (Malikhi Lloyd-Jones, Ibrahim Kabia, Jake Yellop, Kc Swain, Waleed Khalid and Chris Meadway) for all their work this year. Here's to another title win next time, come on you Big Dogs!