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Welsh rugby league's Crusade

Jonathan Davies scores a memorable try for Great Britain against Australia at Wembley in 1994
Welsh legend Jonathan Davies scores a memorable try for Great Britain in 1994

By Peter Shuttleworth

Union is not the only rugby code to boast a proud tradition in Wales.

So perhaps the Rugby Football League's decision to award Wales a Super League team next season is justified and fitting.

The Celtic Crusaders have revived a dying sport this side of the Severn Bridge, a sport whose roots in Wales extend back to the 1890s.

The Celtic Crusaders

Wales are one of the oldest international league sides and in the great trio Billy Boston, Gus Risman and Jim Sullivan, the Welsh have proud representation in rugby league's prestigious Hall of Fame.

David Watkins is still the only player to captain both Great Britain's rugby league and union representative sides while Clive Sullivan was the first black man to skipper a national British sporting side.

Jonathan Davies' sensational try for Great Britain against the Aussies at Wembley in 1994 is one of the greatest scores in the game's distinguished history.

Dual-code superstar Davies was an integral member of the Welsh team's golden generation that ignited the 1995 Rugby League World Cup.

It was the year a rookie Keiron Cunningham and Iestyn Harris burst onto the scene to join Scott Quinnell, Scott Gibbs and Dai Young and co in the Wales team before England ended Wales' dreams in the semi-final.

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Rugby Union going pro in 1996 ended the exodus of Welshman going north to earn a living from league and signalled the beginning of the end for the 13-man code in Wales.

Or so it seemed.

Cunningham, Harris and Lee Briers have valiantly kept the Welsh flag flying in top-level rugby league - a trio that inspired Wales to back-to-back Rugby World Cup semi-finals in 2000.

But the RFL's bold decision to give the Celtic Crusaders a Super League franchise ensures Wales a rugby league future as well as a past.

Ironically, it was the demise of a union region that sparked the crusade to save its rugby rival in Wales.

The Celtic Crusaders rugby league team rose from the ashes of the defunct Celtic Warriors side that was axed by the Welsh Rugby Union.

So while the three-year-old club have a limited tradition, Welsh rugby league has plenty.

Yet the RFL has not awarded the Bridgend-based club a money-spinning Super League franchise as a token gesture of gratitude for Wales' impact in British rugby league.

Crusaders coach John Dixon
John Dixon's arrival as coach from Brisbane Broncos signalled the Crusaders' intentions

It is due to Celtic Crusaders' vision for a vibrant future and the need for rugby league to expand its frontiers beyond the M62 corridor in the north of England.

The Celtic Crusaders have already established links with schools in South Wales to ensure Wales could one day boast league stars of tomorrow as well as stars of yesteryear.

The Crusaders' blueprint was ambitious but their achievement proves that with vision and hard work, dreams can become a reality.

But this is just the start for the Welsh club.

A new stadium, high-profile players and big-money sponsorship deals have been promised as the Crusaders prove Wales is big enough for both professional, top-flight league and union.

Rugby league was all but dead in Wales a few years ago. Now, in one decision, rugby league in Wales is more alive than ever.

see also
Crusaders & Salford win licences
22 Jul 08 |  Rugby League
Super League's new clubs rejoice
22 Jul 08 |  Rugby League


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