Crusaders move alienates fans

Bridgend-based fans of rugby league are the main losers in the changes to the professional game in Wales.

With their own club, Crusaders, set to move 150 miles north to Wrexham, there were calls for a second professional side to be set up in their place at Brewery Field.

However, instead, it has been confirmed that South Wales RLFC will play out of Neath.

It’s hard to not feel sorry for fans of the old Celtic club, who have watched their side grow from the seeds planted there in 2006 to a Super League side in 2009. There’s been struggles along the way, and they are often criticised by heartland fans for poor crowds, but there are still plenty of die-hard rugby league supporters in the province who could sadly be lost from the game.

The crisis surrounding the Crusaders has at least delivered one positive, in that we now have two professional sides in Wales, just as long as they aren’t wrongly fast-tracked in to Super League within three years, like their predecessors.

However, it remains to be seen whether this is merely a cover up to paper over the cracks caused by Celtic’s inclusion in the top flight, which in hindsight appears to have been the wrong decision. Many were keen to see Celtic in the top flight, but who would have imagined such a turbulent debut year for them in the top flight.

It’s been a troublesome winter. Championship fans have grown impatient at the continuing delay of next season’s fixtures – now scheduled for Monday – while I’m sure the uncertainty over Crusaders’ location and future has hardly pleased Super League fans, particularly as the situation has added yet more ammunition for the anti-licensing and anti-rugby league circles.

As soon as the Wrexham move is confirmed, we can finally look forward to the new season, with Brian Noble handed the task of allowing on-field matters to overshadow anything that happens off the field.

For South Wales, it could give them the opportunity to build a new identity. They will surely be given first pick of all the promising Welsh youngsters within the Crusaders ranks – several of whom were on show for Iestyn Harris’ European Cup winning-side – and there will certainly be much less of a reliance on Australians than during Celtic’s time in the third tier.

They have until February 28th – their first game against Workington – to build an identity, to get people behind the team and of course to get a squad of players together. It will prove a massive challenge for the side’s consortium, but they are certain to give it ago.

It could be a case of short term pain for a long term gain, but the sport in Wales lives to fight another day.

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