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Crusaders v Harlequins RL Academy preview
Twelve former Aberavon Fighting Irish players are in the 20-man squad for Celtic Crusaders? first ever match, a friendly against Harlequins RL Academy this Sunday 29 January (kick-off 2pm).
None of the club?s big name Australian imports have been selected for the match against the club formerly known as London Broncos as assistant coach, Anthony Siebold, has decided to use this game to showcase the local rugby talent.
Out of the 12, Sean O?Brien, Geraint Davies, Scott O?Kelly, Andy Llewellyn, Dean Scully and Mark Burke are all Wales A internationals. O?Brien has also turned out for Cardiff Blues? under-20 side, while Llewellyn and Scully have played Welsh Premiership rugby union, for Neath and Aberavon respectively.
Two more of the former Fighting Irish stars have also played professional rugby union. They are Gareth Lewis who is a signing from Llanharan, while skipper Lee Jones is a former Corus RFC player.
Completing the Aberavon contingent is Lee Williams, Gareth Moore, Gareth Owen and Phil Cushion.
Williams, Moore and Owen are all products of the Fighting Irish?s award winning youth set-up and have all played for the Wales under-18 side. Owen has had trials with St Helens while Williams, still aged only 18, has also won four Great Britain under 18 caps. Crusaders? Chief Executive Chris O?Callaghan has often described his as one of the most exciting rugby league prospects in years.
Phil Cushion played for the Fighting Irish last season after being released by Swinton Lions last year. He is one of two experienced National League Two players in the squad after making over 100 appearances for the Manchester-based side in his six years with the club.
John Breakingbury joins the Crusaders from Sheffield Eagles, making 45 appearances and scoring 15 tries in four years following his move from Cardiff Demons. However, his final season was plagued by injury and the Abercynon-born second-row played out the 2005 season with Valley Cougars.
There will be a couple overseas imports in the Crusaders side, both of whom start on the bench.
Tylan Mafi stems from Tonga. An under-24 international for his country, he is the nephew of the great Mateaki Mafi, the Tongan dual code international who was in the Tongan squad for the 1995 Centenary World Cup and also played for Bridgend RFC during his union days.
Andre Boon starts the match on the bench. New Zealand born, he is the second of three former Cardiff Demons players in the squad. Boon has also played Division One rugby union in New Zealand for Northland Taniwha while also having trials for the New Zealand Maoris.
Completing the squad are Oliver Hughes, Chris Vitalini, Dave Evans, Lloyd O?Connor and David Simm.
Hughes is the third Demons player and is a product of their Academy side, making his breakthrough into the first team in 2005. He has also won caps for Great Britain under-18s.
Vitalini has been selected for the Crusaders? first ever match at full-back after impressive performances with Newport Titans last season. Chris has also turned out for Wales Students and has played rugby union for Newport-Gwent Dragons under-20s.
New to rugby league, Evans is a signing from Neath RFC, while O?Connor, a former Bridgend Blue Bulls star, has played for Maesteg RFC. He is the son of Maesteg coach, Leighton.
Finally, David Simm, who starts the match in the second row, is a Scotland international. Formerly with Edinburgh Eagles, Simm is now studying part-time at Bristol University and was spotted while playing for his university side.
Harlequins Academy have already played one game this season, beating Cambridge University 46?12 last week after being 12-0 down in the early stages of the game.
Included in their squad for Sunday is Australian first team regular, Mark Tookey. Formerly of Parramatta Eels, New Zealand Warriors and Castleford Tigers, Tookey is a strong prop who is well known for his charging runs through Super League defences. He is certain to be the danger man for the Crusaders in their first outing.
Harlequins? coach, Stuart Singleton was the Welsh Development Officer for six years and founded Cardiff Demons rugby league club. He is looking forward to returning to south Wales.
?I spent many happy years down in Wales,? said Singleton. ?It was a great honour to help develop rugby league in the area and it?s been fun watching the country?s development since I?ve been in London. I wish Crusaders and Wales rugby league all the best this season but expect no mercy on Sunday.?
Sunday 29th January ? Celtic Crusaders v Harlequins RL Academy ? Brewery Field, Bridgend, kick off 2pm.
Crusaders: Chris Vitalani, Sean O?Brien, Geraint Davies, Lee Williams, Dave Evans, Gareth Lewis, Scott O?Kelly, Andy Llewellyn, Lloyd O?Connor, Phil Cushion, David Simm, Dean Scully, Lee Jones (captain). Subs: Andre Boon, Gareth Moore, Oliver Hughes, Mark Burke, John Breakingbury, Tylan Mafi, Gareth Owen.
Harlequins: Peter Hodgkinson, Olly Bloom, Jamie Boston, Joe Price (captain), Dennis Tufour, Tim Hartley, Steve Owen, Louey McCarthy, John Sullivan, Mark Tookey, Dave Williams, Michael Worrincy, Ian Lane, George Coogan, Graeme Spencer, Tristan Roberts, Tom Bold, Ken Dowdy, Lamont Bryan, Tas Kushnirenko.