Crusaders skipper Ryan O’Hara is desperate to be fit for Sunday’s game against Castleford Tigers at the Gnoll (kick-off 2pm) after being forced to sit out the last two games because of a back injury.
The big-hitting prop suffered the knock in the defeat to Warrington earlier this month and will be a big boost to Brian Noble’s side if he can return for Sunday’s top-eight showdown with Tigers.
O’Hara, 28, was part of the Crusaders team last season that played in Bridgend and endured a tough start to life in Super League.
However, the former New South Wales State of Origin forward was one of Crusaders’ star performers last season, scooping all accolades at the end-of-season club awards, and was high in many of the Super League stats.
He has continued his good form since the move to Wrexham and admits he is desperate to play a part in Crusaders’ return to South Wales as he tries to shrug off his injury.
“I certainly hope I’ll be fit for Sunday,” O’Hara said. “It’s about 50/50 at the moment. I’ve still got a bit of discomfort with my back. I’ll go to training tomorrow and Ben Stirling, our physio, will have a look at it and see how it goes.
“I guess I have good and bad memories form playing down in Bridgend last year. On the field, we didn’t have a whole lot of success but one of the most positive aspects was the fantastic support we had from the fans down there.
“I know a lot of them are very passionate about Crusaders and a lot of them still travel every week to see us home and away and it will be good to give them something back at the Gnoll on Sunday.”
Despite Crusaders’ move to Wrexham, rugby league is very much alive and kicking in south Wales, with the South Wales Scorpions – managed by former Crusaders conditioner Anthony Seibold – making great strides in Championship One, fielding a team made up predominantly of Welsh players.
There is also a thriving amateur game and O’Hara insists it’s important that rugby league continues to develop in south Wales.
“It’s very important that Rugby League has a presence down there because it is very much an untapped resource,” he added.
“There are a lot of kids that play rugby league down there and a lot of that is down to the good work done by John Dixon and Anthony Seibold when they first started.
“The Scorpions are doing well. The whole team is full of welsh guys and that is great for the development of rugby league in Wales.”
Castleford travel to Neath in good form having won four or their last five games, and will be buoyed by their 40-16 hammering of bitter rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last weekend.
There will be a lot at stake at the Gnoll this weekend, with both teams looking to secure a play-off place.
Castleford edged an enthralling encounter 20-16 at the Jungle back in March and O’Hara believes both sides are much stronger than they were during their earlier meeting.
He said: “Castleford are a very good attacking team. They’ve got talented players all over the park and once they get the momentum going they can put four or five tries on you quite easily.
“They are very good around the ruck and we will have to make sure we are strong defensively and stop their offloads. We need to make sure our defensive line is solid on Sunday to make sure we bring back the two points to Wrexham.
“Our last meeting against the Tigers went down to the wire and our inexperience as a team and lack of composure at crucial stages let us down.
“Castleford are one of the best attacking teams in the competition with players like Rangi Chase, Ryan McGoldrick and Dean Widders. We will really have to stop the offloads and clever trick plays that the Tigers can come up with. We’re a better and more experienced team than the one we put out that day and it should be a cracking game.”