THE picturesque Orara Valley Axemen?s home ground in Coramba, New South Wales was the scene of an epic 2006 Orara Valley Sevens Final yesterday between defending champions, Lebanon, and the desperately unlucky Fiji Batis.In what was a pulsating encounter of high quality rugby league, Lebanon scored 6 tries (all unconverted) to 5, to win narrowly 24-22. The match ended with a gallant Fiji side, minus injured captain Semesa Cadrakiliagi, attacking relentlessly with magnificent, open rugby league (as they had played all tournament) and Lebanon frustrating each successive wave of attack with superb scrambling defence.In earlier matches, Lebanon had disposed of Fiji A, Guyra, Leichhardt Wonderers, Tigers, Moore Park (controversially) and tournament surprise packets, Malta. Fiji Batis had lost their opening game to Hoey Moey before warming to their form in successive winning matches against Renown, Sawtell, North Ryde Hawks, Gold Coast Titans ? in advance of their debut entry into the NRL competition in 2007 ? and the talented Auburn Warriors.Lebanon?s semi-final with Malta was delayed for approximately 20 minutes with Moore Park formally submitting a protest over their losing result against Lebanon (28-18) in an earlier quarterfinal. The protest, involving former NRL player Wes Patten, seemed to focus on a disallowed Moore Park try at a crucial stage. Hollywood royalty was called in to deal with the dispute with Russell Crowe intervening to ensure the tournament continued without a change of semi-final combatants.The tension before the Final reached a crescendo with the intimidation of the Fijian war dance concluding literally in the faces of the Lebanese players, who reacted with calm indifference as they stood linked arm-in-arm on the halfway line. Fiji?s attitude to proceedings was demonstrated with a chip ahead on the second tackle after Lebanon?s kick-off and they duly took the lead with Marika Korovue crossing for a try after concerted pressure.Lebanon showed good speed with Johnny Geaves scoring yet another in a tournament full of tries for him, to level up the match at 4-4. Fiji?s glorious instinct to move the ball at every occasion saw a 60m penetration involving 6 players nearly bring off another try before Lebanon took the lead for the first time at 8-4 with a try in the corner to Fred Khouiss. Fiji were not assisted by the absence of a key player after NRL referee Shane Hayne dispatched Semisi Tora to the sinbin for a crucial 3 minute stint. Perhaps the turning point in this match (and the tournament) was Cadrakiliagi throwing an intercept and then injuring his knee in quickly rounding up the Lebanese recipient Samer El Masri. The Fijian captain played no further part in the Final ? a factor that may have proved costly judging by his fine early form throughout the tournament. Shortly after, a visibly shaken Fiji, conceded the second of a brace of tries to that man Geaves, resulting in a 12-4 lead to Lebanon. Fortunately for Fiji, the kicking at goal by Lebanon (failing to register a conversion from 6 attempts) was abysmal. Tournament rules prescribed that the try scorer must take a drop-kick attempt at conversion resulting in some interesting interpretations of this difficult art from patently uncomfortable kickers.Lebanon then showed good flair to make heavy inroads into Fijian territory before scoring an intelligent try from a kick to Toufic Nicholas. Fiji, sensing their opportunity slipping, ceaselessly attacked the Lebanese defensive line, resulting in the talented Max Bainivalu responding with a try after Meli Vosuqa and Tora had combined superbly. At halftime ? the Final was comprised of two 12-minute halves - Lebanon stood tall at 16-8.Lebanon started the second half in a flurry with standout player Jason Stanton finishing off clever attacking work from four other players to help the Cedars pull away to a nearly insurmountable 20-8 lead. Clever work by Korovue sent Ioware Divavesi in for an immediate Fijian response with a converted try under the posts, narrowing the gap to just 6 points.A massive tackle by giant Fijian Neori Kurumalawai momentarily halted Lebanon?s momentum before Travis Touma regained it for the defending champions with a try to make the score 24-14.It was at this point that Fiji really threw off the shackles to enthral the crowd with high pace, sevens rugby league. Quick tries to both Korovue and then Bainivalu, helping each to register two for the match, saw Fiji close the gap to 24-22. Bainivalu, in particular, and Tora proved a menace out wide with Fiji striving to keep the ball alive at every juncture with flowing football. Only desperate Lebanon defence, with Mo Chahal especially prominent, saw the final grasping tackle effected on a Fijian attacker before the hooter blasted out its final note.Lebanon?s jubilation at successive tournament victories was all the more vivid when contrasted with the abject disappointment of the Fijians, a fact that made the post-game embraces between the rival players all the more noteworthy. This reflected what was a spirited but sportsmanlike tournament throughout.Best players for Lebanon were Chahal, Stanton and Ahmad El Masri and for Fiji Bainivalu, Tora and Vosuqa.Overall the tournament was a great success with three of the final four places being contested by international sides (nine competed). Malta was officially awarded third place for an all-international top three. The promoters of the tournament could do worse then invite even more international sides next year, although the contribution of country teams in particular was also exceptional.If the World Sevens is not to be revived by the Australian Rugby League in the near future, this tournament itself could be an avenue for much needed international development as Fiji, Lebanon and Malta have demonstrated rugby league has such great potential for.
ENGLISH Super League champions Bradford Bulls have rubbished reports linking coach Brian Noble with the imminent vacancy at Australian club Newcastle Knights.Noble, whose contract as Britain coach ends after this year's Tri-Nations Series in New Zealand and Australia, was reported in Sydney to have applied to succeed Michael Hagan when he leaves the Knights for Parramatta at the end of this year. Bradford chief executive Gareth Davies says he has sat down with Noble to discuss the issue and the coach absolutely refutes having had any contact with the Knights.Davies said Noble has stated he would like to coach in a warmer environment like Australia in the future but he is contracted this year and next year with Bradford. Noble is preparing the Bulls for Friday's World Club Challenge with Wests Tigers.Newcastle, who ended last season with the National Rugby League wooden spoon, enjoyed success under a previous Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, who took them to a first Grand Final win in 1997.
?35 degrees against the Premiers ? can?t get a bigger test up front than that,? commented Norths General Manager Greg Florimo as the Bears Harold Matthews squad tested their mental in 1 & half hours of 20-minute quarters against Penrith.With a possession of 2:1 in favour of Penrith the Bears will head into their next trials with a clear plan of what to improve and work on. ?It came down to simple mistakes: controlling the play, drop ball allowing Penrith to hit back and probably a lack of experience in aggression.All fixable problems? said Co-coach Kevin Nichols. ?It?s absolutely fixable, we will turn this experience into a positive,? said fellow coach Gary Armstrong.The SG Ball camp are confident of a competitive year with the under 18 boys at times dominating the Penrith side. An even matched affair till the Penrith club brought on fresh teams to trial, the aggressive and talkative North Sydney side performed admirably against the Panthers.It was a tough encounter with Norths Brock Harmer being knocked out and a strong performance by John Faletau. But just like that well-known TV show, assistant coach Jamie Papa felt ?there?s room for improvement?. Jamie trained one of the most competitive Bears Premier League sides in a number of years in the 2005 season.The Bears next trial will be against the Manly Sea Eagles on the 4thFebruary.PHOTO: S.G. Balls' John Faletau crossing the line in a extraordinarily tough trial match against Penrith. Photo: Steve LittleFor more action photos of the Junior Reps trial against Penrith go here - http://www.northsydneybears.com.au/Photos/Junior%20Reps/20060121vpenrithtr/20060121%20-%20TR%20JR%20V%20Penrith.htmThe North Sydney Rugby League Football Club can be contacted on 9466 8860, by e-mail [email protected], or check out the website athttp://www.northsydneybears.com.au.
AUSTRALIAN coach Ricky Stuart has hit back at claims from Tim Sheens that only one Wests Tigers player had been considered for the Kangaroos squad.Premiership-winning coach Sheens slammed the Australian Rugby League for failing to let him know where his players stood on the representative scene. Sheens has told radio station Triple M he heard a rumour only one Tigers player was considered for the 44-man national squad which went into camp in Bondi this weekend.But Stuart says that was not the case and added he thought he was doing the right thing by the Tigers by allowing their players to miss the camp as they prepare for the World Club Challenge. The Tigers fly out to England tonight for Saturday's (AEDT) clash with English champions Bradford after playing a trial match on Friday in the NSW town of Gunnedah.Stuart says ARL boss Geoff Carr had explained the situation to both Wests recruitment manager Warren McDonnell and chief executive Steve Noyce.
LEBANON have won the Orara Sevens tournament in Coffs Harbour after defeating Fiji Bati 24-22 in the final. The Cedars led 16-8 at halftime.The Malta Knights finished third after the Auburn Warriors forfeited due to injuries. Malta's Ben Sammut was awarded player of the tournament.Meanwhile, the Orara Valley Axeman defeated Narwan Eels 28-24 in the country final.Full list of resultsThe 2006 Orara Valley Axemen Sevens TournamentResults Day 1 - Qualifying GroupTeam v Team Score A Malta v Gold Coast Titans 28-22 A Crescent Head v Aust Maoris 10-0 A Gold Coast Titans v Aust Maoris 24-8 A Malta v Crescent Head 30-16 A Malta v Aust Maoris 26-8 A Gold Coast v Crescent Head 38-0 B Hoey Moey v Fiji Bati 20-8 B Renown v Sawtell 26-12 B Renown v Hoey Moey 20-16 B Fiji Bati v Sawtell 34-14 B Fiji Bati v Renown 46-0 B Hoey Moey v Sawtell 22-8 C Birrigan Gargle v Cook Island 20-12 C South Sydney v Woolgoolga 20-4 C South Sydney v Birrigan Gargle 28-0 C Woolgoolga v Cook Island 18-10 C South Sydney v Cook Island 22-14 C Woolgoolga v Birrigan Gargle 22-14 D Lebanon v Fiji A 18-4 D Guyra v Leichhardt Wanderers 20-12 D Fiji A v Guyra 36-26 D Lebanon v Leichhardt Wanderers 44-14 D Lebanon v Guyra 32-16 D Fiji A v Leichhardt Wanderers 24-20 E Auburn Warriors v Sydney Bulls 30-14 E Hunter Magpies v Nambucca Heads 22-8 E Hunter Magpies v Auburn Warriors 28-8 E Sydney Bulls v Nambucca Heads 34-16 E Sydney Bulls v Hunter Magpies 28-8 E Auburn Warriors v Nambucca Heads 38-8 F Moore Park v Sydney Metro 24-22 F Coffs Hotel v Comets 24-22 F Moore Park v Comets 32-16 F Sydney Metro v Coffs Hotel 18-16 F Sydney Metro v Comets 50-8 F Moore Park v Coffs Hotel 36-14 G Camperdown v Orara Gold 6-6 G Axemen v USA 24-4 G Camperdown v USA 22-14 G Axemen v Orara Gold 14-4 G USA v Orara Gold 24-24 G Axemen v Camperdown 22-22 H North Ryde Hawks v Japan 32-0 H Narwan Eels v Armidale 32-4 H Narwan Eels v North Ryde Hawks 14-0 H Armidale v Japan 16-14 H Narwan Eels v Japan 30-6 H North Ryde Hawks v Armidale 30-22 I NZ Maoris v Gimbisi I Tigers v Byron Bay 24-14 I Gimbisi v Byron Bay 16-10 I NZ Maoris v Tigers 26-12 I NZ Maoris v Byron Bay 48-10 I Tigers v Gimbisi 38-16 Results Day 2 - Finals GameTeam v Team Score Round 1 Malta v Sydney Bulls 34-26 Round 1 Narwan v Hoey Moey 30-20 Round 1 Lebanon v Tigers 16-0 Round 1 Moore Park v Axemen 28-22 Round 1 Fiji Bati v North Ryde 28-8 Round 1 Gold Coast Titans v NZ Maoris 14-8 Round 1 Auburn v Camperdown 30-4 Round 1 Sydney Metro v South Sydney 32-22 Quarter Final Malta v Narwan 30-8 Quarter Final Lebanon v Moore Park 28-22 Quarter Final Fiji Bati v Gold Coast 30-20 Quarter Final Auburn v Sydney Metro 24-22 Semi Final Lebanon v Malta 32-26 Semi Final Fiji Bati v Auburn 26-18 3rd v 4th Malta v Auburn Forfeit Grand Final Lebanon v Fiji Bati 24-22 Best Player Award - QualifyingName Team Votes Matt Austin Gold Coast Titans 6 Mejid Hussein Auburn 6 Wes Patten Moore Park 6 John Nash Coffs Hotel 6 Craig Trindle Sydney Metro 6 Best Player Award - FinalsName Team Votes Daniel Spiteri Malta 6 Jason Stanton Lebanon 5 Mejid Hussein Auburn 4 Mohamed Chanal Lebanon 4 Most Points for the WeekendName Team Points Jarrod Sammut Malta 38 Walter Imo Auburn 36 Shannon Walker Gold Coast Titans 44 Anthony Aviery Moore Park 44 Best Team AwardsAward Winner Best National Team Auburn Best International Team Lebanon Best Country Team Orara Valley Axemen Many thanks to Hans Van Der Donk from the Orara Valley Axemen. Website: www.oraravalleyaxemen.comAnd the Coffs Harbour City Council. Website: www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au
FIXTURES for 29.01.06Challenge CupHull 8 Hillside Hawks 40Keighley Cats 6 Castleford Panthers 26Bradford Thunderbirds 88 Warrington 6Wakefield Panthers byeFirst DivisionCopeland v Shaw Cross Sharks (No Result)Development LeagueMiddleton v Peterlee Pumas (No Result)Sheffield Hawks v Crofton (No Result)Rochdale Ravens v Pendle (No Result) Bradford Victoria v Stanningley (No Result)Brighouse Rangers v Swinton (No Result)
A match between Leigh Centurions and Halifax RLFC was dramatically postponed this afternoon after Halifax coach Anthony Farrell refused to play the game after referee Karl Kirkpatrick deemed the Hilton Park pitch playable. The contest should have been the Testimonial game for Centurion?s hooker Paul Rowley who has been a great servant to both clubs.On the Hilton Stand side of the ground there was a 30 metre by 10 metre patch of the ground that was found to be frozen and the ground staff of the club began to water that part of the ground to make it playable. The rest of the ground was bathed in sunshine and blue sky on a winter?s day. After Kirkpatrick had decided the game playable and the uncertainty gone, the gates were opened for the crowd half an hour to kick off.As kick off time approached the Leigh Centurion players were still warming up as Halifax coach Anthony Farrell and his coaching staff left the field, got onto the team bus outside ground were his squad was waiting for him. As the crowd were informed of the postponement the coach slowly drove away back to Halifax.Boos heard from the crowd after it was announced that the referee had said that the game was playable and that Halifax didn?t want to play it.The game will now be replayed this coming Wednesday evening with a 7.45pm kick off.Leigh Centurions general manager Mike Callaghan found the incident unusual and the first time something like this had happened to him in his long involvement with the game.?It?s very unusual I?ve got to admit,? Callaghan said.?It?s the first time in fourteen years being associated with rugby league that the referee calls the game on, not a problem. The coach of the away team decides that there isn?t a game, gets on the coach and promptly goes back to Halifax which is a bit perplexing to be honest with you.?Basically it?s been cold, everywhere has been slightly cold. We?ve got one small section of the pitch which had a little bit of frost in. I?ve got to say our players were fine with playing on it not a problem at all. The grounds men were working on it, the referee was fine with it, so as far as we?re concerned the game was on. The sun was out and the little bit of frost that was in it but I think there coach was forestalling that he didn?t want to play the game. It was getting later on in the day and by the time we would have finished it would have been around five to quarter past five and it would have begun to freeze again, I?m not happy about it?Callaghan was also disappointed that the postponement had spoiled Paul Rowley?s big day and the game being changed to Wednesday evening.?I am gutted for Paul because it?s his benefit game after being a good servant with Halifax and the Leigh Centurions and it?s something you don?t like to see. To be perfectly honest if Halifax had come here wanting to play a game, the game would have been on. No question about it.? There was no reason for it to be called off you play on a lot harder pitches in summer and I don?t take any excuse from any coach, we prepare the pitch as best we can and it was playable. The referee as I say was out there running up and down, walking up and down, [and] digging his heel in.?While the drama was unfolding Callaghan was trying to contact Emma Rosenthorne of the Rugby Football League.?I?m waiting for Emma from the RFL to contact me back because we?re not happy with the situation.? Callaghan said.?A game that could have been played postponed purposely because a head coach decides that he didn?t want to risk his players on a minor segment of pitch that had a bit of frost in it. I?ve just e-mailed Emma with the circumstances today because I am perplexed, the first time in fourteen years I?ve actually had this situation. I?ve been looking through all my various RFL notices, information rules and procedures and I can?t really find one to get an answer. I?ll have to wait for advice from Emma.?For referee Karl Kirkpatrick it was the first time he has been involved in as situation of this kind and he will be reporting the matter to the RFL.?I?ve never been involved in anything like this before and unlikely to be again.? Kirkpatrick said.?I inspected the pitch and deemed it to be playable however Halifax disagreed with my decision and refused to play.??I will be putting a report into the Rugby Football League.?Halifax coach Anthony Farrell was unavailable for comment as he, the rest of the coaching staff climbed onto the coach with the players for the trip back home.
LEEDS Rhinos will be at full strength for their only home pre-season friendly against Harlequins this Sunday at Headingley Carnegie, kick off 3pm.The team for the game will see players from squad number 1-13 line up to play Quins in the London clubs first game in their new guise in the UK.The game will see Great Britain captain Jamie Peacock make his debut for Leeds in the front row whilst there is also first appearances in the pre-season campaign for the Rhinos other test internationals Chev Walker, Keith Senior, Rob Burrow, Ali Lauitiiti, Gareth Ellis and Kevin Sinfield.Commenting on the game Head Coach Tony Smith said, ?Quins had a good win last week at Catalans and will be full of confidence coming to Headingley Carnegie. This is a chance for us to step up our preparations for the start of the season against Huddersfield. The players who have not played yet, particularly Jamie Peacock, are desperate to get a game under their belt and they will be up for a big performance, especially in front of our own fans.?We are still a fortnight away from the start of the season so we will be having a look at a few things but this is an opportunity to access where we are now and what more needs to be done before the campaign starts,? added Smith.The team in full is:1. Richard Mathers2. Scott Donald3. Chev Walker4. Keith Senior5. Lee Smith6. Danny McGuire7. Rob Burrow8. Ryan Bailey9. Matt Diskin10. Jamie Peacock11. Ali Lauitiiti12. Gareth Ellis13. Kevin Sinfield (c)14. Shane Millard16. Willie Poching18. Jamie Jones-Buchanan20. Nick Scruton21. Carl Ablett
SUPER League Champions Bradford Bulls were planning to play their full squad ahead of the Carnegie World Club Challenge in their weekend game against Hull KR, which is Robbie Paul?s testimonial game.Lesley Vainikolo and Paul Deacon will miss the game, together with Stanley Gene, knee and Chris McKenna, hamstring, but Brian Noble is keen to point out that supporters will see a very competitive game from the Bulls.?It is a really important game for us for two reasons. Firstly we need to say a fond farewell to Robbie Paul and place on record our thanks for the magnificent service he has given to both the club and the game over the past twelve years. He has had iconic status here and that is reflected in the people who are coming to play in his game, Henry Paul, Brian McDermott. James Lowes and Steve McNamara will all take part in the game at some stage.Secondly it is our last game before next week?s Carnegie World Club Challenge and it is a vital part of our build up. We will be fielding virtually our full WCC side and supporters will get a chance to see them in action ahead of next week?s game."After 11 years of loyal service to the club, the game will see Robbie Paul make his final appearance for Bradford Bulls at Odsal Stadium, before playing for Huddersfield Giants in 2006.Paul, who made his debut in the 1994?95 season, will play in a Bulls side that will include guest appearances by former stars such as Henry Paul, James Lowes, Brian McDermott and Steve McNamara.
WIGAN have unveiled their striking new away playing kit, which will see the Warriors wearing blue for the engage Super League XI campaign.The new 2006 playing kit has been manufactured by JJB, the club?s Technical Sponsor, and will be worn for the first time in Wednesday?s friendly at Leigh.The navy blue shirt, which sees a return to the colours worn when the Warriors last lifted the Challenge Cup in 2002, will feature a round neck, white sleeves and red piping. This will be worn with navy shorts and navy socks.The strip will be officially launched on Wednesday 15th February at the JJB store on Robin Park and also at the JJB Soccer Dome on Stadium Way in Wigan from 6pm, priced at ?25 for junior sizes and ?35 for adult sizes.The shirt will also go on sale that night from the two stores with first team players celebrating the launch at the Robin Park store. The kit will go on general sale on Thursday 16th February from selected JJB Stores along with Warriors World in Wigan Town Centre and online at wiganwarriors.comWigan Warriors Marketing Director Simon Collinson said:?Our home kit is on course to become a best seller and we are confident that our new blue alternative strip will follow suit.?
THE Huddersfield Giants have announced their new Captain, Vice Captain and Squad Numbers for 2006.On being announced as captain, Chris Thorman received a rousing reception from all the supporters who had gathered at the packed Billie Rox Nightclub as he came onto the stage at the Giants Season Launch Event and addressed the fans for the first time in his new role.Thorman was thrilled by the news: "It's a great honour to be named captain of this great club and I'm delighted to have been chosen. The players are really excited about the new engage Super League season and we cannot thank the fans enough for their massive turn out at the launch event"Australian Hooker Brad Drew was named Vice Captain and all the players received their 2006 playing shirts from their individual sponsors.Full Squad Numbers For 20061. Paul Reilly2. Martin Aspinwall3. James Evans4. Michael De Vere5. Stuart Donlan6. Chris Thorman7. Robbie Paul8. Eorl Crabtree9. Brad Drew10. Jim Gannon11. Chris Nero12. Steve Snitch13. Stephen Wild14. Stuart Jones15. Paul Jackson16. Paul March17. Paul Smith18. Wayne McDonald19. Jon Grayshon20. Andy Raleigh21. Mat Gardner22. Albert Torrens23. Tom Hemingway24. Bolu Fagborun25. Simon George
WARRINGTON Wolves home fixture with the Salford City Reds has been postponed due to a part frozen pitch at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.The match, a testimonial for Mike Wainwright, will be replayed on Wednesday, February 1, kick off 7.30pm ? dependant on the weather conditions. A pitch inspection will take place at 12noon.Those who have purchased tickets will be able to use them on Wednesday, those unable to make it please call in at the ticket office.
HUDDERSFIELD Giants Head Coach Jon Sharp has named a strong squad to travel to the Jungle on Sunday to face the Tigers (KO 3-30pm).Sharp commented 'This is another key part of our build up to the season's opening Super League game and I am sure that will be reflected in the performance. I was very pleased with the improvements we showed as the game wore on last week versus the Bulls which ultimately led to us winning the second half.'We have 7 new players in the squad and it naturally takes time for the training field work to take effect on matchdays but overall I was very pleased and am looking forward to seeing further improvements at the weekend.'We have got another good weeks work under our belts and everyone here is looking forward to the game'Missing out versus the Bulls but added to Sunday's squad is new signing Andrew Raleigh who admits he is itching to make his claret and gold debut 'Yes I'm very keen to play' said locally born Raleigh.
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.
RUGBY league has its best chance yet to establish itself in south Wales, according to former Warrington forward Mike Nicholas.