Media View: Expert Insight on North Wales Crusaders
April 1, 2022
Cornwall RLFC will play their first ever professional match when they travel to Betfred League 1 rivals North Wales Crusaders tomorrow – 5.30pm kick-off.
The Welsh outfit are based in Colwyn Bay and play at the Eirias Stadium after spending most of their previous decade in existence at Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground.
Along with the all-important league points which will be up for grabs when the two teams lock horns, they will also be doing battle for the Celtic Shield which will be contested by Cornwall RLFC, North Wales Crusaders and West Wales Raiders in 2022.
Under the stewardship of Anthony Murray, the Crusaders finished 2021 occupying third place in the League 1 standings. However, they were somewhat surprisingly beaten by outsiders Doncaster who themselves made it all the way through to the play-off final before losing to Workington Town at Derwent Park.
Despite the disappointment of falling in the play-offs last year, Murray’s men are one of the favourites to be in hunt for a Championship place in the end of year shake-up.
And if their form so far in 2022 is anything to go by, those that predict success for North Wales this year may be proved correct. They reached the fifth round of the Betfred Challenge Cup before bowing out to Championship side Sheffield Eagles.
In their opening league match last Sunday, the Crusaders edged a high scoring thriller at the Crown Oil Arena with Rochdale Hornets defeated 36-34.
Although the final scoreline was close, the visitors raced into a 16-0 lead during the first half and despite an improvement in performance from Rochdale as the game wore on, North Wales claimed the two league points.
Ahead of this historic clash, cornwallrlfc.co.uk spoke to North Wales’ press officer Ryan Gould who also covers the club’s fortunes for weekly newspaper League Express.
1) Although still early in the season, sum up how your campaign has gone so far?
It’s been a strange pre-season as Crusaders started training in November and here we are in April beginning the league campaign.
North Wales didn’t have any pre-season friendlies so the Challenge Cup fixtures have acted as those in a way. It’s fair to say it’s been a decent start to 2022 as Crusaders were the only club to reach the fifth round of the competition.
A trip to Leigh Miners Rangers was a potential banana skin, but they passed that test and then picked up two really impressive wins over fellow League 1 sides Swinton Lions and Hunslet. Although they were knocked out by Sheffield Eagles, Anthony Murray will have been really pleased to score 30 points against a strong Championship side.
A trip to Rochdale Hornets on the opening weekend of the League 1 season was one of the most difficult fixtures Crusaders could’ve been given, but they were well worth the two points.
After a strong 2021 campaign, it looks like North Wales have picked up where they left off.
2) Would it be fair to say the club is in its best position for a number of years?
Most definitely. The club is in a good place at the moment.
The move to Colwyn Bay ahead of 2021 was a risk in some ways as the club has always been based in Wrexham, but it’s the best thing they’ve done in a long way.
The hardcore group of fans have travelled over from Wrexham and many people on the North Wales coast have really taken to rugby league, with crowds growing significantly.
It’s also been really positive to see more people looking to play the sport in the local area on the back of Crusaders’ move.
Last season was the best for the club since 2015 so it’s clear the club is making progress both on and off the field.
3) How much of your success is down to stability generated under Anthony Murray?
To some people, Crusaders’ performances last year might’ve come as a shock, but this has been building for a while.
Since Anthony Murray returned to the club a couple of years ago, he’s slowly been creating a squad to compete week in, week out at this level and Crusaders have secured improved finishes year on year.
One of the most important things at Crusaders is creating the right culture, with everyone buying into what the club is doing and working towards the same goals.
Murray always likes to give players in the community game a chance and we’ve seen many over the years go on to create very successful careers in the professional game, playing at League 1 level and higher.
His Coach of the Year award in 2021 was thoroughly deserved and highlights how much he’s respected by other coaches at this level.
4) Who is North Wales’ player to watch?
Jordy Gibson had been ready to step up to semi-professional level for some time and finally made the move with Crusaders ahead of 2020, although that season was cut short because of the pandemic.
The halfback showed exactly why he was so highly rated in the community game with his performances at North Wales last season, picking up Fans’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year.
Gibson has started the 2022 campaign in fine form and will no doubt be a key part of Crusaders’ side for the remainder of the year.
Follow Ryan on Twitter – @GouldyMedia