‘There’s a place for Wales in elite rugby league’ – Crusaders boss urges sport not to ignore growth

George Riley
Rob Massam North Wales Crusaders Alamy

Rob Massam in action for North Wales Crusaders

As the sport enters a new era under IMG, there are fresh calls for Wales to have a team at the elite level of British rugby league.

North Wales Crusaders produced a shock run to the League 1 play-off final before losing out to Doncaster who gained a deserved promotion to the Championship.

Crusaders solely flew the Welsh flag this season after West Wales Raiders dropped out of the professional ranks despite acquiring the likes of rugby union legend Gavin Henson and Rangi Chase, a former Man of Steel.

In winning three stunning play-off games on the road at Workington, Oldham and Hunslet before falling at the final hurdle, North Wales reminded the sport that it needs Welsh representation at the top level, according to player-coach Carl Forster.

“There is a place for a Welsh team in elite rugby league,” he told Love Rugby League.

“Crusaders are trying ridiculously hard and the foundations are thriving.

“We are going into schools constantly to bang the drum but just haven’t had the reward of home games this season.

“My lad is nine and went to a festival in Wales and the amount of kids who were playing at eight or nine who didn’t even have a team 12 months ago was crazy.

“I feel sorry for the club that we have only had two home games. The fanbase is there but they have just had to move venues too many times over the last few years.

“If we can get consistent games in Championship at Colwyn Bay then I really think it could thrive.”

Problems with the installation of a new pitch plus other booking clashes meant Crusaders having to play at venues including Chester Rugby Union some 40 miles away.

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Forster’s side lost their opening half a dozen games but came good at the end of the season, scraping into the play-offs in sixth before their purple patch in the knockout games.

And the 31-year old says he is taking it all in his stride, having learned his trade amongst legends at hometown club St Helens.

“I’m a St Helens lad and achieved a boyhood dream to play for Saints,” he added. “I didn’t realise it at the time as you take things for granted until they are gone.

“When I first came through Royce Simmons and Daniel Anderson were coaching and I did one day a week when I was at school.

“I played with Sean Long, Keiron Cunningham and Scully (Paul Sculthorpe). Then when I went full-time it was James Roby and James Graham. What a grounding.

“I love being player and coach. I did it at Whitehaven but I was only 24 then so was much more fearless and a bit wet behind the ears.

“Coming into the Crusaders was harder as I only knew three players. Everything was a learning curve, they had just lost a coach in Anthony Murray who had done such a good job and had a set routine so I felt up against it.”

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