The Rise of the Western Dragon

By Daniel Andruczyk

Monday night, well it wasn’t the NRL, but just as good I thought. Channel 9 are showing the second ESL game at midnight. It was the Crusaders and Catalans at the Wrexham’s Sportsground. Two things were a stand out, the quality and gritty play of the Crusaders and the decent crowd that came out in that damn cold weather.

For those antipodeans that aren’t aware of what’s been happening in the UK and Super League the last few seasons, Super League went to the 3 year franchise system. 2009 was the first year this came into being and teams were asked to submit applications and were chosen using a “rigorous” decision process by the RFL. Surprise surprise the 12 ESL teams got in but the two extra teams were Salford and the Celtic Crusaders. Salford is an old traditional team, the original Red Devils, based around Manchester, but are still seen as a expansion team to try and tap into the Manchurians. Celtic were based in Bridgend at the Brewery Field about 20 minutes up the road from Cardiff. This was the umpteenth attempt by the Welsh to finally establish professional Rugby League in Wales.

Rugby League fans fell into two camps, the pro and against Crusaders camps. The pro camp argues that for the good of the game we needed Wales, it was in heartland rugby union and struck a blow for Rugby League at the old enemy. It would force greater coverage of the sport now that rugby league was in town.

The cons argued that there was not much support for them, simply because it is heartland Rugby Union, its a small obscure town out of the way and hard to get to for many League fans. They had little or no home support let alone away support and their structure and ground were just not up to scratch.

The truth is somewhere in the middle I suspect. Celtic showed that there was a market for Rugby League, and the amateur comp grew as well as the juniors. They did however suffer from a very old stadium, small crowds, if they got 3000 it was lucky. And eventually their wealthy benefactor pulled out under growing debt.

They were forced either fold or find a new home and reinvent themselves. They did the latter and moved north to Wrexham a town that or region that has no professional sport. They were opened with welcome arms and the locals came out accordingly. Crusaders first game against Leeds had a crowd over 10,000, other games against Hull and Catalans has also drawn crowds over 8000 and 6000. The support seems to be there. Their rebranding has worked and they do intend on playing some games south still.

But south Wales is not devoid of Rugby League, The South Wales Scorpions have formed and entered into Championship 1, and have a couple successes already. Again they seem to have a good local player base and have a good path for local juniors to come through the ranks.

This domestic success is, I think, slowly transforming into international success. Indeed Wales at the lower international level is probably one of the strongest nations around. The amateur 4 nations they have won a few times and regularly beat the French and English at junior levels. Last year Wales won the European Nation Cup and this year will look to defend its title against Scotland, Ireland and France. The WRL are aiming to be the next full member of the RLIF, but as I understand it a country to get granted full member status it needs to pump its own money into the RLIF, something that I am not sure the Welsh are au top doing yet. I may be wrong.

One thing is for sure Wales seems like its going to be up there in the next few years as one of the stronger teams. If they can recreate their 2000 form then expect the Welsh to be there at the Semi-finals is not the finals. They have shown in the last few years they can match it with many of the stronger second tier nations including Papua New Guinea, whom they defeated in 2007. I am excited in seeing this. Having now 6-7 competitive nations in Rugby League is only something we have dreamed of in the past. Now its seems coming close to a reality.

Thanks to the posters

Last blog I made comments on the refereeing standard and that I felt that the 2 referee system was not working. This created some debate. I wont go over the specifics as all the comments are on the post to see. Though I am not yet to be convinced otherwise I do want to say a big thanks to those that did comments and have such a lively debate on the subject. I hope that it and other comments stir as much debate and passion.

House keeping

A big thanks to a poster on the blog as well, Deluded Pom, who has pointed out a few things for me to change. From now on when talking about Hull FC and KR I will refer to them as Hull and Rovers… or should that be ‘Ull und Ruvers?

Daniel Andruczyk’s email:
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