While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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After beating the best that the principality has to offer, Bridgend Blue Bulls and Cardiff Demons are set to fly the flag for Wales in this Saturday's Total RL.com Rugby League Conference Quarter-Final matches. And rugby league fans will have the chance to see both matches. While Cardiff's match kicks off at the regular time of 1430 BST, Bridgend have moved their start to 1915 BST, allowing for some of their players to play two matches in two different codes in one day.
In the day's first match, Welsh Shield winners, Cardiff Demons face up to South Shield winners, Telford Raiders at Taff's Well RFC. This match is being played as part of Taff's Well RFC's summer fete which starts at 1330 BST. The Demons are grateful for Taff's Well for hosting this match on this busy day for them and for the work they have done to get the game on arguably the best quality pitch in the Conference. The Demons were originally having to reschedule the game due to the fete such has been the popularity of the rugby league club in the town, the locals insisted on the quarter-final match being part of the day's events.
Telford Raiders were founded in the late 1990s but first joined the Conference in 2003 finishing their first season with three wins in nine matches. This year, they have faired a lot better and are currently in excellent form with four wins and a draw in their last six games.
Cardiff Demons are also on a run of good form after three very impressive wins on the bounce. Coach Wayne Williams makes only three changes to the side that beat Newport 38-35 in last week's Welsh Shield Final. Gareth Holtam is back from injury and starts for the first time since May, Carl Jones replaces the unavailable Gareth Jones while Mark Bow starts at hooker replacing James Madden.
The Welsh Shield win was Williams' fourth piece of rugby league silverware as a coach in the twelve months and is now desperate to win a fifth. He comments, "When we looked at the quality of the sides at the start of the season, our realistic aim was to win the Welsh Shield and to qualify for the national competition. Now we've done that, we're still not happy. We want to go further. We've won three in a row. Another three wins and we'll have our second piece of silverware this season."
Rugby fans in Bridgend have two big matches taking place featuring three of the town's teams on Saturday.
At 1430 BST the Brewery Field sees the 'Battle of Bridgend,' with the Bridgend Ravens taking on their near-neighbours Bridgend Athletic, while at 1915 BST at Bridgend Town FC the reigning Welsh and British rugby league amateur champions take on West London Sharks in the Harry Jepson Cup quarter finals.
West London Sharks are one of the Conference's oldest clubs, playing in every season since the competition was formed in 1998. Like the Blue Bulls, they have an unbeaten record in Wales, after beating Cardiff Demons twice at their ground - once in the regular season, once in the play-offs - in 2002. With only one defeat so far this season, they are sure to provide competitive opposition for the Welsh champions.
The Blue Bulls are coming to the end of yet another successful and so far unbeaten season, while Ravens coach Chris Stephens has been working hard to put together a strong team for the forthcoming union season, and Bridgend Athletic will be looking forward to life in division one after being promoted back in May.
Nathan Strong, Paul Morgan and Grant Epton have all been named in the Bridgend 15-a-side team, with Chris Stephens wanting to cast an eye over his squad before the start of the season.
But Bulls coach Kevin Ellis will also want these three to play a part in the 13-a-side game that day and will not want to miss top try scorer Epton or the tough tackling Strong.
Carle Ellis could also find himself playing twice as he is expected to line up in the centre for Bridgend Athletic before heading up the road to join his brother Kevin in a Blue Bulls jersey.
The majority of the Blue Bulls play their winter rugby at Maesteg and owe a thank you to Leighton O'Connor who has agreed not to include his Bulls contingent in Maesteg's pre-season friendly against Caerphilly.
Total RL.com Harry Jepson Trophy Quarter-Final Bridgend Blue Bulls v West London Sharks (Bridgend Town FC, 1915 BST)
Total RL.com National Rugby League Conference Shield Quarter-Final Cardiff Demons v Telford Raiders (Taff's Well RFC, 1430 BST)