Crusaders up against it

With the hours before their engage Super League bow ticking away, Celtic Crusaders are already up against it. Eight players missed much of pre-season in Australia waiting on visas, the club’s only pre-season friendly against Harlequins was called off, and dave Thompson, the Crusaders chief executive, announced that he will leave the club earlier on this week. It’s all bad news for the club that faces a stern test against the Super League champions, Leeds Rhinos.nnNone of this is really Celtic’s fault. Aside from the debate over the number of overseas players, they could do little or nothing about them being stranded down under. The club had no control over the state of the pitch at the Twickenham Stoop (Bradford’s game on Sunday could also be called off), and they can’t make Thompson stay if he really wants to go.nnHowever, the Crusaders will still have to deal with the consequences. Those consequences might (or might not) mean that the new squad is in no shape to play a game, especially not against a side of the Rhinos’ undoubted quality. In this context, Thompson’s resignation may result in the merest suggestion of panic in the Celtic Crusaders camp. The consequences, therefore, could be disastrous: picture a sixty- or seventy-point thrashing tomorrow night.nnYet, it’s difficult to imagine that actually happening. For one thing, Leeds are without a number of key players: the likes of Rob Burrow and Brent Webb, along with three or four others. Secondly, the Crusaders players were able to get together at a pre-season training camp in Australia. Thirdly, we can’t say how long Thompson’s resignation has been in the pipeline. The announcement came as a surprise to us, but it may have been scheduled for a long time at the club itself.nnOn top of which, you just can’t shake the feeling that the Crusaders will play surprisingly well. There’s no bigger test that this game, and their backs are very much against the wall; they’ll be up for it. Players like Jace van Dijk, Mark Dalle Cort and Tony Duggan, who have worked their way up from NL2 will certainly be relishing this encounter. The whole club has been working up to this point ever since June.nnA lot also depends on Leeds. The Rhinos players are professionals, and they’ll take any game seriously. But howveer much they might tell themselves to be ready for this one, there is the slightest chance of complacency among the Leeds squad. If the players allow themselves for one minute to underestimate the Celtic’s chances, then they will be punished for it. This could turn out to be a very tricky opening fixture for the Rhinos.nnThe Crusaders may not have faced odds as bad as this before. Yes it was an amazing achievement to reach the Grand Final in their first NL1 season, but even then most people had expected them to do well, even if not quite that well. Yet, that in itself may give them a greater competitive edge, and make this game well worth watching.nnKeep your eye on rugby league

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