Super League has a new home in Wales – all it needs now is a team to play there. The sale of the ailing Crusaders to Wrexham Football Club was confirmed yesterday, which means that all but two home games next season will be played at the Racecourse Ground. The exceptions will be at Neath, which will also be home to a new South Wales side in the Co-operative Championship 1.
It is not, Brian Noble admits, what he signed up for when he agreed to coach the then Celtic Crusaders. "But I think it's a fabulously exciting time for rugby league in Wales," he said. "Everybody involved in rugby league should be excited." They certainly did their best to stoke up excitement in Wrexham yesterday. "This area of North Wales has been starved of top-class sport for too many years," said the football club's chief executive, Paul Retout, who brokered the deal. "This is equivalent to bringing Premier League football to the town."
The Crusaders' chief executive, Mike Turner, even managed to make a virtue of the area's lack of rugby heritage. "There is fantastic interest in Super League in North Wales and a lot less competition, although we still need to be competitive on the field."
That is the rub. Crusaders have fewer than a dozen players left from their traumatic first Super League season and have announced just one new recruit, Hull's Tommy Lee. Others are in the pipeline, but they will not include the former New Zealand winger, Matt Utai, with whom they were in negotiations. "He's pulled the pin and retired," said Noble. "We are a bit behind the eight-ball where recruitment is concerned."
St Helens have announced that next season will be their last at Knowsley Road. Their new stadium in the town is due to be ready for 2011.