THE Celtic Crusaders will launch the latest attempt to establish a professional club in Wales on February 12 when they face London Skolars at Bridgend's Brewery Field in the Northern Rail Cup. It is more than nine years since the demise of the one-season South Wales Dragons, but the Crusaders chief executive Chris O'Callaghan, a former Aberavon rugby union player and coach, insists that the new club's priority will be earning promotion from National League Two as part of a plan to reach the Super League.The Crusaders are backed by Leighton Samuel, the businessman behind the Celtic Warriors union franchise that was wound up last year, and have recruited John Dixon from Wayne Bennett's Brisbane Broncos staff to work with the former Wales international Kevin Ellis.Dixon has signed six Australian players who will arrive this week and, according to O'Callaghan, form "the spine" of an otherwise Welsh squad. [The Australian players are understood to include Michael Ryan, Tony Duggan, Damien Quinn, Jace Van Dijk and Matt Jobson.] Dixon said: "The most important thing if we're going to get the game going down here is to have a team that can challenge for promotion to National League One straight away."In an ideal world we'd love to have an all-Welsh team but it's a few years too late for us to build a side around the guys who went north like Allan Bateman and John Devereux. So we've gone to Australia rather than the north of England to get the spine of our team, although there is plenty of local talent coming through the Conference clubs down here to build around."The Crusaders have been given a highly favourable draw in the Northern Rail Cup being involved in a new southern group which includes St Albans and Hemel Hempstead, two largely amateur clubs from National League Three. But their first National League game on April 9 is a tough outing at Workington, one of their likely promotion rivals."It's a big challenge for us because there's no easy way of getting up there," added O'Callaghan. "We've done all the logistics and even if we fly to Glasgow or Newcastle it's still a two-hour drive at least, so we'll be having an overnight stay and preparing properly. We are expecting nothing less than a major war."The fixtures for the National League's First Division, which are also officially released today, feature a Good Friday derby between Leigh and Widnes, the two clubs relegated from the Super League last season, in the second round of matches.Leigh's former coach Darren Abram, who left by mutual consent in August six weeks before they were relegated, has been appointed to succeed Bobbie Goulding at Rochdale Hornets. Abram's first game in charge will be in the Northern Rail Cup at home to Oldham, another of his former clubs.- - - - -Andy Wilson is the rugby league writer for The Guardian and The Observer newspapers in the UK. We thank them both in reproducing Andy's article here.
THE Sydney Roosters have suspended stars Anthony Minichiello and Craig Wing for breaching the club?s code of conduct during the State of Origin camp.
BRISBANE once did the unthinkable by bringing back veteran halfback Allan Langer to top class football, and now they?ve done it again, with the club announcing plans to bring former Queensland play-maker Paul Green back to top class football.
ST.GEORGE Bank Dragons prop Jason Ryles has been sidelined for 2-4 weeks with a torn ligament in his foot following Friday night's emphatic 37-6 win over the Eels at Parramatta.
Ryles, 25, who has played four games this season after returning from a career threatening shoulder injury, overcame a knee strain to play on Friday night but injured his foot. Scans today revealed he has a torn ligament.
Dragons winger nathan Blacklock will be out for 4-6 weeks after re-injuring his hamstring, while captain Trent Barrett is expected to need another week for his hamstring injury and Nathan Long (knee) is likely to be out for another six weeks.
On the good news front, Lance Thompson (shoulder) and Matt Cooper (knee) have been cleared to play the Broncos in Brisbane this Friday night.
AS we've come to expect, Cronulla had their fans on the verge of a massive heart attack in another close encounter on the weekend. Despite holding a considerable lead, an Andrew Walker led Manly tore their way back into the game, and were it not for an askew kick at goal, would have almost certainly lost the game in extra time.
CANBERRA pair Brad Drew and Luke Davico were fined a "fairly significant" amount by their National Rugby League club following an early morning fracas in Canberra.
IN the first of a series of interviews with past and present Redcliffe players I had the pleasure to catch up with Dolphin legend Bob Jones.
Bob came to Redcliffe from Gunnedah in 1975 to play with the Dolphins and has been here ever since except for 1977 when he went to Sydney to play for the Roosters in the then Sydney competition.
WITH one match to go on their short tour to New Zealand, Russia will be looking to finish it off in fine style when they line up to play Otago on ANZAC day tomorrow. Boosting a record of 1 win and 2 losses form their three matches, the Russians have shown that they can compete and that they are learning new things from their tour.
Giving the 26 players each a game have been the elusive goal set by the Russian rugby league team. The results of the 4 games against New Zealand clubs will determine the players for the national team in 2004. It provides the Bears the chance to learn a different style of the game before the Bears annual Victory Cup tournament in Moscow, which also involves Ireland, the United States, France, England and a New Zealand Defence Forces team.
ROUND 8 of the Western Alliance Competition continues this Saturday with three home games in the region and with some close encounters expected.
WIGAN Warriors v London Broncos - Sunday 25th April 2004 at The JJB Stadium - 3pm KO
SKOLARS RESERVES AIM TO WIN BACK TO BACK CUPS
The London Skolars reserves are aiming to hold onto the clubs silverwear when they take on Gateshead in the final of the Conference Cup in Derby on Sunday. The Skolars won the final last year and are favourites to regain the trophy after an impressive victory last weekend against South London which qualifiedthem for the final. With the Skolars NL2 side having the weekend off, coach Stu Singleton can pick from a large squad of regular second teamers and a number of players who have NL2 experience but have also played at the conference level this season.
SHARKS centre Nigel Vagana put the demons from last night's test match to rest after he scored the match winning try in golden point extra time as the Sharks beat the Eels 18-14 in a thriler at Parramatta Stadium.
CRUNCH time for Illawarra's involvement in the St George Illawarra joint venture is drawing closer with the National Rugby League set to offer a new licence sooner rather than later.
THE Melbourne Storm have put in a polished performance disposing of North Queensland Cowboys 28-6 at Olympic Park tonight.
THE Canberra Raiders have run out unconvincing 19-18 winners over the Newcastle Knights at a chilly Canberra Stadium this evening.