Mailbox: The lasting impact of Crusaders

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Dear Editor,

When Ben Flower announced his retirement this week, it gave me reason to reflect on the lasting impact that Crusaders had on the sport. For all the organization’s flaws, it proved to be an effective launchpad for the careers of several young Welshmen. Let us review the careers of some of the Welsh players who got their start in Wrexham (or Bridgend):

– Ben Flower was a promising rugby union player as a teenager, but got picked up by the Crusaders in 2008. He ended up winning three Super League titles, a Challenge Cup and a World Club Challenge.

– Fellow prop forward Gil Dudson also went on to win a Super League title and Challenge Cup with Wigan. He was instrumental getting Salford to both the 2019 Super League and 2020 Challenge Cup grand finals. This year, Dudson’s helped take the League Leader Shield to the South of France for the first time. We’ll see if more hardware is not forthcoming.

– Lloyd White was the Widnes Vikings’ first-choice hooker throughout their most recent stint in Super League. He scored nearly 250 points for the club in just under 150 games. This season he was given the number 9 jersey for Championship leaders Toulouse Olypique. White has also captained Wales.

– Elliot Kear debuted for Crusaders in 2009 and has played nearly 250 games of professional rugby league (as well as some first-grade rugby union for London Welsh). Like White, Kear has captained the national team.

Other Welsh players who got their start with Crusaders include Jamie Murphy, Lee Williams, and Lewis Mills, all of whom earned Wales caps. Let alone the likes of Gareth Thomas, whose late-career move to Crusaders probably did more for the profile of the sport in Wales than anything else could have.

One has to wonder what the state of Welsh rugby league would be today if Crusaders hadn’t folded. Maybe the club never would have produced a genuine super star, but Crusaders certainly have turned up a few more young Welshmen capable of sustaining long, successful careers. That would have been good for Wales, good for international rugby league generally, and good for Super League. One lesson the game’s administrators should take from Crusaders is that expansion is not just about reaching new audiences, but also expanding the talent pool.

Valedictory in Virginia

Editor’s comment: The expansion in attempts in to Wales have almost been forgotten about, and I wrote something on that a couple of years ago. North Wales Crusaders have enjoyed an excellent second half to 2021 and are still in with a shot of promotion to the Championship – which would provide a real shot in the arm following their relocation to Colwyn Bay, and it would also help the make-up of the second tier too.

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Get your letters in now via email to:

1 Comment

  1. I used to go to the Celtic crusaders and it was brilliant watching all the big names coming to Bridgend. After the coach John Dixon left in came Brian Noble thinking this is going to be better, unfortunately the guy who was boss was asking to help run the club through other money makers but didn’t happen that was the end of rugby league in Bridgend. Now I’m a season ticket holder At warrington

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