GEAR UP FOR THE WEEKEND | Round 21 of the #NRL kicks off tonight with the Roosters hosting the Bronc...
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Wales biggest success story of 2006 has been Celtic Crusaders. In their first season, they were just a drop-goal away from the National League Two play-off final after losing 26-27 to Swinton Lions here at the Brewery Field in one the most dramatic games in our sport?s history.
Celtic Crusaders enjoyed a record-breaking first season and still hope to be awarded a Super League franchise in 2009 despite missing out on promotion this season.
The Super League is offering 14 franchises to the most promising professional clubs, regardless of league position in 2009.
And the Crusaders hope the powers that be will recognise the benefits of including a Welsh-based side to promote the game in new areas.
There was great optimism that Wales? only professional rugby league team would sweep aside all National League Two opposition in their first summer.
After impressive Northern Rail Cup victories, including crushing St Albans 72-0, it seemed the optimism was justified.
But after being dumped out of the Challenge Cup and NRC by League One Rochdale Hornets and failing to register a win in four of their first five away league games gave the side a dose of reality.
The shock departure of chief executive Chris O?Callaghan in June only served to galvanise the squad under coach John Dixon with the appointment of operations manager Gerald McCarthy giving the club a fresh outlook. The slashing of ticket prices and promotions with schools boosted attendances to a season high of 1,103 against champions Dewsbury at the Brewery Field.
A run to the playoff semi-finals and increasing number of hard core supporters has impressed benefactor Leighton Samuel enough for him to be excited about next season?s campaign.
?There was a lot of disappointment in the dressing room last week but not going up might turn out to be a blessing in disguise,? he said.
?We have recruited well and plan to make a serious assault on the title next season.
?The gap between National League Two and One is massive, as was showed when we were thumped by Rochdale.
?But we were a better team at the end of the season so we will start next season with a very strong squad.
?Our support has been fantastic and is getting better all the time. The noise and atmosphere they create at games is just tremendous.?
Samuel said the club were on the verge of some big signings although he couldn?t reveal any names.
That should placate fans worried by the exit of influential Australian skipper Michael Ryan, who is returning home to be with his family after his daughter was born with heart complications.
Top try-scorer Tony Duggan will be at the club next year after notching 37 in 26 games, beating Tommy David?s 1982-3 season total of 26 for Cardiff.