Celtic ready for Super League stardom

The Brewery Field has seen its fair share of rugby superstars over the years from all over the globe ranging from Welsh legends J.P.R. Williams and J.J. Williams to current Welsh captain Ryan Jones and record cap holder Gareth Thomas. Bryan Adams has even been there for a one off performance during the summer of ’06. nnBut 2009 will see a whole new bunch of superstars grace Bridgend. Super League is coming to town. nnSince it was founded in 2005, their owner Leighton Samuel’s main aim was for his team to eventually reach Britain’s top tier of rugby league and in July 2008, that goal was achieved. nn“It literally means everything to everyone at the club for us to know that we will be playing against some of the best rugby league players in the world” said an overly enthusiastic Tom Burnell, an academy graduate destined for big things with the club. nn“Coming from where the club has gone playing in National League 2, going from strength to strength to actually playing the likes of these massive Super League teams is just something that’s just hard to get your head around.” nnAnd after just one look at the fixture list, the Crusaders will know how far they really have come.nnA trip to Headingley awaits John Dixon and his men. Coming up against the likes of Rob Burrow, Brent Webb and Kevin Sinfield in your first week might not be ideal but coach Dixon is not perturbed. nn“Playing the 2008 engage Super League champions in our first fixture game provides us with the best possible introduction to playing at the elite level. We look forward to the game.” Said an upbeat Dixon. nnIt seems a long way off to their very first game against a Harlequins Academy team in which they managed a respectable 22-22 draw. Despite other good results early in the season and being tagged favourites for promotion in their first year of existence, they finished a very creditable third. nnTheir second year capped a magnificent season for the club with the Crusaders winning National League 2 and gaining automatic promotion to National League 1, with full back Tony Duggan scoring forty tries in the process thus earning him the league player of the year award with five others joining him in the team of the year. nnA lot of the credit for the Crusaders’ success has to come down to one man, Leighton Samuel. The once owner of the now defunct Celtic Warriors (he has reportedly claimed the Crusaders are the reincarnation of the Warriors) has invested heavily into bringing Super League rugby into South Wales and that investment has paid off. nnNot all of the credit can go to him though as coach John Dixon has himself worked wonders with his squad. A former player himself who moved into coaching under the legendary Wayne Bennett, Dixon has brought in players from Australia as well as nurturing homegrown talent to turn the Crusaders into a genuine top-flight club. nnBurnell along with another prospect for the future Lloyd White, nephew of Phil Ford who represented Great Britain in rugby league and Steve Ford who represented Wales at rugby union, are both optimistic for the Crusaders in their upcoming campaign. nn“Considering where we have come from and how far we have come, I do not think we should have anything to be scared about. We have played Super League teams before and despite the scoreline we have always gave a good account of ourselves and always came off the pitch thinking we can mix it with the big boys week after week.” Said hooker Burnell 20. nnWhite 20, shares the same mentality on taking on the top teams. nn“We will go out there with nothing to fear and give a lot of teams a shock if they think it is going to be a walkover. But then on the other hand they could be wary of an upset and if they go out there thinking that we have to try and exploit that weakness.” nnStand off White represented Wales in the student World Cup over the summer held in Australia and both players helped the Crusaders academy team win the Conference National title in a game in which they were heavy underdogs.nnEven though both are real prospects for the future, they may have to wait for their opportunity as the Crusaders have brought in eight new faces during the off season including Matty Smith from St. Helens. nnThe exciting Smith, 19 was seen as the heir-apparent to Sean Long at Knowsley Road but due to Long’s imperious form, he has seen himself sit on the bench for the majority of the season before being sent out on loan to Widnes in order to get first team rugby. nnLincoln Withers, Marshall Chalk, Adam Peek, Ryan O’Hara, and Mark Bryant all arrive from Australia while Peter Lupton signs from Castleford and Ste Tyrer also joins from St. Helens. nnThese are exciting times for everyone associated with the club from Bridgend who continue to exceed expectations. If they continue progressing as they have been, who knows what lies in store for them.

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