When Celtic Crusaders were first admitted to Super League there were plenty of people willing to tell you what a disaster their inclusion would be. However, not even the most fervent of anti-expansionists would have predicted just how disastrously things have actually turned out. As things stand a club exists which faces a £60,000 penalty for visa irregularities that saw the deportation of six players, and doesn’t know where it will be playing next season.
Conjecture has it that the Crusaders (now shorn of their alliterative forename) will head north to set up home in Wrexham, now that the move to Newport seems to have fallen through. Such a move would be another disaster: for all the jibes about union-loving Wales never taking to league, it was south Wales where rugby league had been quietly developing. That’s why there are nine RL Conference sides in the south versus just one in the north, Rhyl Coasters.
Yet, if the Crusaders were to set up home in soccer-loving north Wales, it might not be a bad move. Yes, it would be suicide for the club itself, but hopefully rugby league expansion in south Wales would no longer suffer the damage of being associated with a club patently unready for the rigours of Super League. There is talk of a new club being set up at Bridgend to play in Co-operative Championship division one; that could well be an excellent move.
For all the bluster of the rugby-league-is-a-northern-game crowd there was always enough support to justify the setting up of a semi-professional club in, what was then, National League Two. Welsh RL Conference matches can pull in crowds that certain Championship 1 sides would be satisfied with, and created a pool of talent that a new semi-professional club could dip into. Indeed, when the Crusaders were first set up the bulk of their squad was made up of local players from clubs in Bridgend and Aberavon.
However, if a new club is to be successful it needs to repudiate the mistakes of the past, taking a long-term view of expansion. With a squad made up of mainly Welsh players – drawn from the Welsh Conference as well, perhaps, as the Crusaders youth set up – this is not a team that will be competing for silverware any time soon. However, to the expansionist mind the mere existence of a truly Welsh semi-professional side is a success.
A new club will fail if it rejects that in favour of the hyper-expansionist, let’s-get-them-in-Super-League-as-quickly-as-we-feasibly-can approach. Already people are talking about having two Welsh Super League sides in the near future (because, obviously, the current franchise has been such a resounding success). But a new club shouldn’t even be considering Super League within the next decade. They will need that time to grow, and develop, and become sustainable. By that time, if we’re fortunate, the franchise system will be long gone and the Wrexham Crusaders will be dead and buried.
A new semi-professional club could, if run in the right way, be a whole new start for Welsh rugby league. However, the work of expansion can only go on if it ignores the views of those who say it will always fail, and those who say it has only succeeded if it ends up in Super League at the next round of franchise applications.
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