Welsh rugby union stars a must for Celtic

Everyone thought that perhaps Celtic Crusaders had done the hard part in actually getting their place in the top flight, but their Super League dream has been far from easy in their debut season.

The last few weeks have been particularly turbulent, although last weekend’s win over Salford will have gone somewhere in erasing the recent stories of financial problems and visa irregularities.

However, they are still struggling to get people through the door, even in their first season, where you would expect more fans coming in to experience the novelty of top flight rugby league in Wales, and of course extra travelling fans keen to experience a new venue to watch the greatest game.

But where Celtic really missed the boat was with marquee signings, and by marquee signings, I mean Welsh rugby union stars.

The Welsh rugby union team, ironically with a sizeable rugby league contingent on its coaching staff, has been successful in the past few years, winning two Six Nations Grand Slams and pulling off some notable test scalps.

There is no denying that rugby union is the sport of choice in the south of Wales, but had Celtic managed to sign a relatively big name from the other code, it would have all but guaranteed them bums on seats, something they are desperately in need of.

I was surprised that they didn’t move for Iestyn Harris, the dual code Welsh international, and while he was far from a huge success in the 15-man game, he would at least be recognisable to the Welsh public.

That’s in stark contrast to the vast number of Australians on Celtic’s books, with Jace Van Dijk, Damien Quinn and Adam Peek hardly househould names to fans in the rugby league heartlands, let alone Wales.

And considering they have only managed three wins – against Bradford, Wigan and Salford – the Crusaders may have been better served fielding as many Welsh rugby league rookies instead. Fans would be more inclined to cheer on a team of local boys than under-achievers flown in from Down Under.

But now Celtic must look to the future, and perhaps they can now lure a Welsh star to their ranks.

Gavin Henson or Shane Williams.

What a coup that would be. Henson is probably the most famous Welshman in the UK thanks to his relationship with Charlotte Church, and coverage of him would give massive media attention to Celtic.

Williams was the best rugby player in the world not so long ago, and he too would add significant profile to the Crusaders. At the age of 31, he still has a lot to offer, and following the recent Lions tour, he appears to be winding down in rugby union, and surely would fancy the undoubted challenge that Celtic would bring.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Williams was pressed about converting to rugby league.

He said: “I don’t know if I’m big enough for rugby league. Hopefully I would (put bums on seats). I enjoy rugby league and I enjoy watching it, I always have.

“I really don’t know (about switching codes), it’s a question I don’t get asked that often! I do enjoy it. Whether I can play it and do a job I don’t know, I’ll have to see.

“It’s something I’ve not really had time to think about.”

Williams, or Henson for that matter, would certainly give rugby league a major shot in the arm in south Wales. As a rugby league fan, it would be fantastic to see two players of their talents switch codes, and follow in the footsteps of past greats such as Jonathan Davies, a former president of the Celtic club.

Next season will be even bigger for the club as they look to improve on this season’s disappointment, and if they can progress over three years as Catalans Dragons have done, then owner Leighton Samuel will surely be pleased.

They have a three year licence in place but they need to do enough to convince the RFL that they are worthy of a further licence when the next application process comes around in 2011, in time for the 2012 season.

Uncertainty over the location of the franchise is another problem – with rumours of a temporary move to Newport while a new purpose built stadium is developed in Bridgend, where the Crusaders are currently based.

As much as there was opposition to their inclusion to Super League in the first place, the Crusaders have certainly caused a stir in recent weeks, and maybe, just maybe, they could target a coup in the mould of Henson or Williams in the not-so-distant future.

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