Blast from the Past: The North Wales crusade

Crusaders coach Clive Griffiths has revealed the emotion he felt at watching North Wales win the Northern Rail Bowl final less than 18 months after forming from the wreckage of Super League’s failed Welsh club.

The Crusaders had seen off Rochdale, Gateshead and Oldham, meaning a place in the Bowl final was theirs providing they avoided defeat by more than 66 points when they travelled to Hemel in April.

Crusaders won that midweek match 36-24, with Leon Brenon’s two tries before half time giving North Wales a healthy lead that was maintained by further scores from Craig White, Simon Stephens and Billy Sheen.

London Skolars were to be North Wales‘ opponents in the first ever Northern Rail Bowl final, and they overcame the capital side with a memorable 42-24 victory.

Griffiths said: “I’ve had some good battles in my time in rugby league, but coming from where we were it was a fantastic achievement. It was a great feeling to create a little bit of history.

“We had a tough draw with Oldham and Rochdale, but the bounce of ball went our way and we got there. It was a great feeling at the end of it, because winning a final in any competition is so rewarding – it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing at.

Griffiths still remembers Crusaders’ first training session, when 26 players arrived from student and amateur rugby league and amateur rugby union.

“They were all hand-picked,” says Griffiths. “Some came through from trials we’d had in the weeks before – we found Rob Massam that way – and it was great to see so many guys coming down to the club.

“We did a presentation in the Racecourse Ground, then went outside and trained on the astroturf. It was a good first session – we could see we had some fair players even at that stage.

“To see those guys from different playing backgrounds all come together was absolutely fantastic.”

The 59-year-old first became involved with rugby league when he signed for St Helens in August 1979.

Now, more than 30 years later, he is able to reflect on exactly why he loves rugby league.

Grittihs said: “The game itself, I don’t know what it does, but it’s certainly changed my character a little bit. I’ve gone from instrumental to mental.

“It’s such a great game. In rugby union your set pieces are such a massive thing in deciding the game, but the big thing with rugby league is it’s a real, real test of rugby ability.

“The rugby league crowds create a great atmosphere and there are some fantastic characters and people in the game. Alex Murphy, Dave Chisnall, Mike Gregory – I’ve been so lucky to have worked with all those guys and so many others.

“Les Boyd, Des Drummond, Jonathan Davies, Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards – all these guys who I’ve been lucky to be associated with over the years. It’s been a fantastic journey and the being at North Wales Crusaders now is just as enjoyable as the World Cup semi finals. It’s a fantastic game when you get into it.”

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