Ex-Crusaders blast ‘corrupt’ RFL

James Gordon

Two ex-Crusaders players have blamed the RFL for the problems that blighted the Welsh club’s stay in Super League, and say the governing body should be held accountable for its collapse.

The recent news that Keith Senior is to pursue legal action against Crusaders and the RFL has seemingly re-opened wounds still lingering from players who actually represented the club during its three year stint in Super League and beyond.

Senior remains without a club having signed for the Wrexham-based club just weeks before it opted to withdraw from Super League in 2012.

Josh Hannay, 32, a former Queensland State of Origin centre and second in the all-time North Queensland Cowboys points scorers list, and former Brisbane Broncos full-back Tony Duggan, 28, are now leading calls for ex-players to take legal action over moneys they are owed.

Hannay said: “In light of Keith Senior‘s fight against the club, it’s re-opened our wounds and we are hoping it can re-open the door on our situation and lead to us gaining the compensation we rightly deserve.

“This time we feel we need to not only focus our anger on Crusaders and Leighton Samuels, but the RFL itself. They knew the whole time what was going on, and they sanctioned our participation and the participation of so many others like us, knowing the whole time that it was illegal and that they were in the wrong.

“For them to allow what has happened to us, to allow the Crusaders to get away with not compensating us, makes them as guilty as anyone involved in all of this.”

Hannay, who joined the club in 2007 following a spell at Cronulla Sharks, scored 104 points in 44 appearances, while Duggan scored 101 tries in 88 appearances over four seasons, scoring their very first try in 2006.

The whole situation is complicated, however. Original owner Leighton Samuels, who was in charge from the National League 2 beginnings through to the first season in Super League, sold the club at the end of 2009, with the new owners then relocating the franchise from Bridgend to north Wales. The new owners then led the club in to administration at the end of the 2010 season citing “inherited debt”, which resulted in the club suffering a six point deduction last year.

Then, with many expecting Wakefield to get the Super League axe last July, Crusaders announced they were withdrawing from the competition at the end of 2011, with club owners Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts pulling out of the club, saying they were not able to fund the side any more, a move which eventually led to the club being wound up in September.

Hannay and Duggan, along with Jace van Dijk, Damien Quinn, Mark Dalle Court and Darren Mapp, were deported in 2009 by the UK Borders Agency after it was found they were playing in the country illegally. However, Hannay says that the players involved were guided 100% by Crusaders and the RFL on how best to gain entry in to the UK and play.

“The way with which we entered the country and the terms under which we played rugby league over there were totally dictated by the Crusaders club, and the powers that be at the RFL,” he said. 

“Everything we did to gain entry into the UK and to play rugby league in the UK was done in good faith that these two groups were doing the right thing by us. The legal thing. The honest thing. How wrong we were and how greatly we have paid through substantial loss of income and substantial loss of potential income in the future, not to mention the hit our reputations took while the RFL seemingly wiped their hands clean of the situation.”

Duggan, who has since been playing for Lezignan in the French Elite League, isn’t able to play in the Challenge Cup for his new club due to the 10-year ban from the UK handed to the six deported players.

He said: “When we questioned the non-professional visa we were told that it was a loop hole that all clubs were using. When the UKBA started their investigation the RFL denied all knowledge.

“When we got deported, much to our shock, the Crusaders and RFL knew they were in trouble. We were told we were already deported and there was nothing we could do but if we kept quiet and played nice then they would pay us not only what we were owed but also the remaining amount on our contracts.”

Prior to leaving the country, the six players demanded a meeting with then Crusaders owner Leighton Samuel to get assurances over their pay, and he took their Australian bank account details, giving each player his “word” that they would be paid the money that they had “earned and deserved”. They never received a penny.

Duggan added: “It was heartbreaking to be kicked out of the country and branded cheats. We worked so hard to develop rugby league in Wales and achieve success with the Crusaders. To put so much effort in and finally reach Super League and then have it all taken away was tough to handle. Then to add insult to injury they have stolen our money. Someone needs to be held accountable for this.

“I was lucky that I signed straight away for Lezignan and came here to continue my career but most of the guys had to return to Australia. Not only did they make us pack up our lives in 2 weeks but they also deprived us of the ability to continue our careers at that level. For it all to be brought about by the incompetence and lies of the RFL and Crusaders was a tough pill to swallow.

During Duggan’s last few months at the club, an RFL taskforce, led by Steve Ferres and Gary Tasker, was appointed to liaise with the club over its finances.

Duggan added: “The RFL knew back then the depth of financial trouble the club was in and yet they continued to let them operate. For them to come out and act surprised when the Crusaders pulled out just before the franchise announcement was laughable! They need to be held accountable for allowing this to continue.”

A new club, North Wales Crusaders, was formed following the collapse of the Super League franchise, playing in the third tier, back where both Hannay and Duggan started their careers with the club.