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Bridgend Blue Bulls face Aberavon Fighting Irish in the Welsh Grand Final on Saturday at Aberavon Greenstars RFC (kick-off 2.30pm).
Despite Aberavon having an inferior regular season record to the Bulls, the Irish will enjoy home advantage after winning a sealed bid for Aberavon Greenstars RFC to host the Grand Final regardless of the participants.
Despite this, Bridgend will still start as favourites having already beaten Aberavon twice in the league, including a 48-8 trouncing at Maesteg last month.
The Blue Bulls welcome back top points scorer Jon Williams, and big hitting forwards Jon Purnell and Karl Hocking. However Birmingham Union side Pertemps Bees have refused to release Mike Davies and new signing Lenny Woodard for the game while Marc Davies will also miss the match.
The Blue Bulls have scored 98 tries and 546 points in their 12 conference games this season with wing Grant Epton claiming 11, centre Dai Owen has grabbed 9 and Kevin Ellis and Craig Fox have scored 8 a-piece. Jon Williams is Bridgend's top points scorer with 88 points from 42 goals and a single try while Marc Davies has bagged 68 points thanks to his 4 tries and 26 goals.
One player to really hit form of late is Carle Ellis who has scored seven tries in the past four games including a hat-trick against Newport Titans and two tries against Aberavon the last time the sides met while Paul Morgan and Gareth David were brilliant in the recent wins over Torfaen Tigers and Newport Titans.
The reigning Welsh and British Amateur Champions have an extra incentive to play as a win would see them go 27 games unbeaten and just two victories away from equalling Wigan's World Record of 29 consecutive wins. If the Blue Bulls retain their unbeaten tag this season and defend their GB crown they will break Wigan's record and make it 30 out of 30. Of course that is a long way off but if they were to accomplish this goal it would be amazing achievement for a team only two years old.
Aberavon, who finished the regular season with 9 wins out of 12 are reported to be fielding a full-strength side on the day and with all their big guns available for selection, could pose a serious threat to Bridgend's two year unblemished record.
After the day's action, spectators are invited to join players and officials over at the Green Stars clubhouse for the presentations, where they can enjoy the club's traditional hospitality. Why not stay for the Championship Party (admission ?3) where the fabulous 7 piece 'Madness ' Tribute Band' ' Baggy Trousers' will be the star attraction.
BRIDGEND BLUE BULLS (from): Marc Davies, Jon Williams, Gareth David, Grant Epton, Gareth Hopkins, Dai Owen, Allan Bateman, Carle Ellis, Griff Davies, John Devereux, Craig Fox, Dan Williams, Lloyd O'Connor, Lloyd Paget, Paul Morgan, Paul Williams, Geraint Lewis, Matthew Wareham, Gareth Bartlett, Marcus Sainsbury, Dean Fitzgerald, Jon Purnell, Dan Shore, Nathan Strong.
ABERAVON FIGHTING IRISH (from): J Strover, D Dyer, Paul Morgan, D Scully, D Ryan, R Lewis, G Vaughan, L Gadd, Dan Hawkins, A Llewellyn, M Burke, Dai Hawkins, J Massey, R Price, C Thomas, N Davies, R Morris, M Thomas, I Moore, D Felton, G Dix, A Suter, S Bailey, P Breeze, L Imperato, D Ap Dafydd, K Jenkins, R Milson, James Jones, M Hare, M Rowlands.
WELSH SHIELD FINAL PREVIEW Written by: Ian Golden Cardiff Demons are relishing their third encounter of the season with Newport Titans as they take them on in the Total RL.com Welsh Rugby League Conference Shield Final at Aberavon Greenstars RFC this Saturday (kick-off 12.30pm).
Despite conceding over 50 points in each of their two regular season matches against the men from Gwent, the Demons are in an upbeat and confident mood after their final training session on Wednesday night.
Chairman Ian Golden comments, "It's been a tough season. Making the step over from the South West to the Welsh Conference has been a step-up in quality but I think we've handled it well. The league table doesn't give a fair reflection of how we've played and the lads know it. We should have had at least three or four more wins, it was just stupid errors or lack of concentration that cost us those games."
Coach Wayne Williams is also confident that those problems have at last been ironed out adding, "The way we won our last two games against Valley Cougars and Swansea is how we should have been playing all season. In those games, we fought hard for our wins and the scores reflected the quality of our performances. However we know that Newport won't be as easy as those games and we're ready to take them on again."
Cardiff make just three changes to the squad that handsomely beat Swansea last week. Jamie Iles replaces Carl Jones on the wing while skipper John Byers is back from holiday and replaces the unavailable Mark Devine in the back row. Matt Trevelling is back from injury and starts on the bench.
Newport Titans, who have three former Cardiff Demons players in their squad, go into the final on the back of two straight defeats against Torfaen and Bridgend, knocking them out of the Grand Final play-offs and settling for a place in the Shield Final instead.
Coach Dan Clements comments "The last two games were against top of the league sides so we can't really reflect on that. We're hoping to bounce back on Saturday and put in a good performance. I'm really pleased by the way the season's gone so far. Reaching a major final in our first season as a club is a tremendous effort and we hope to progress and take on Telford or South London on the 14th."
Former Demon Rob Dodgson will be playing against his former club for the first time and is looking forward to the challenge.
"You don't know just how much I'm looking forward to this game," Dodgson said, "It'll be the first time I've played against Cardiff, a team who I was with for three seasons. It'll be good to take on my old mates."
CARDIFF DEMONS: Andrew Bradshaw, Jamie Iles, Neil Thomas, Rhodri Thomas, Idris Evans, Gareth Jones, Peter Moore, Anthony Loxton, James Madden, Dave Roberson, Evan Powell, Mark Dando, Jon Byers. SUBS: Pat Howell, Matt Trevelling, Andy Jones, Kyle Blake.
NEWPORT TITANS: Owen Jones, Kirk Johnson, Earl Palmer, Neil McKim, Gavin Carruthers, Ross Palmer, Ben Morris, Scott Hirene, Tyrone Mahoney, Richard Jones, Craig Drew, John Davies, Paul Jones, Pete Fullthorpe, John Dingle, Rob Dodgson, Lee Hussain.
FULL WEEKEND FINALS WEEKEND SCHEDULE The full schedule for the Welsh Rugby League Grand Final weekend at Aberavon Greenstars RFC has now been confirmed with an additional fixture added to Saturday's schedule.
Following the main event, Bridgend Blue Bulls v Aberavon Fighting Irish, Aberavon's development team will take the field against touring side, Wyke RLFC from Bradford who competed in Division Four of the Pennine League last season.
Wyke have been recently been assisted in their training by Super League side, Bradford Bulls in their "Go Bull-istic programme". Members of the club are attending the coaching sessions with the Bulls, creating closer links for the amateur club with the participating schools.
Sunday sees the under 13 and under 15 Grand Finals starting with Aberavon Fighting Irish competing against a Rhondda Cynon Merthyr junior side at under 13 level at 12.30pm. This match is an alternative Welsh version of one of the oldest rugby league partnerships as while the valleys side have been assisted in their coaching by Wigan Warriors, Aberavon have been helped in their cause by Wigan's local rivals St.Helens.
The under 15 final then takes place at 2.30pm with Bridgend Blue Bulls for once being the underdogs as they take on the unbeaten Valley Cougars, who beat Cardiff Demons two weeks ago in order to compete in this tie.
Valley Cougars' coach Mark Rowley is pleased with the youth rugby league development in the Rhondda and Cynon valleys and is looking forward to the fixture. Rowley comments, "Our lads have beaten all comers this season but Bridgend are the best side we've played and they gave us a great game when we played them earlier in the season.
The full weekend schedule at Aberavon Greenstars RFC is...
Saturday August 7th 11.00 - Under 17 Final - Aberavon Fighting Irish v Cardiff Demons 12.30 - Total RL.com Welsh Shield Final - Newport Titans v Cardiff Demons 14.30 - Total RL.com Welsh Grand Final - Bridgend Blue Bulls v Aberavon Fighting Irish 16.15 - Challenge Match (Senior) - Aberavon Fighting Irish Development Side v Wyke RLFC
Sunday August 8th 12.30 - Under 13 Final - Aberavon Fighting Irish v Rhondda Cynon Merthyr Juniors 14.30 - Under 15 Final - Bridgend Blue Bulls v Valley Cougars
OTHER REGIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE CONFERENCE GRAND FINALS THIS WEEK
Wed 4th August (7.30pm) Cumbria - Penrith Pumas 22 West Cumbrian Crusaders 35
Fri 6th August (7pm) North West - Widnes Saints V Chester Wolves Yorkshire - Leeds Akademiks V Wetherby Bulldogs
Sat 7th August (2.30) Midlands - Nottingham Outlaws V Leicester Phoenix North-East - Newcastle Knights V Peterlee Pumas East - Ipswich Rhinos V North London Skolars South - Somerset Vikings V West London Sharks
OTHER RLC SHIELD FINALS THIS WEEK
Sat 7th August (2.30) North-West - Crewe Wolves V Blackpool Sea Eagles Midlands - St Albans Centurions V Worksop Sharks East - St Ives Roosters V Cambridge Eagles South - Telford Raiders V South London Storm Yorkshire - South Wakefield Sharks V Thorne Moor Marauders