Rugby League Preview: Riley holds the key to a capital crusade

THE next few days are crucial for the future of professional rugby in London. This week, the Rugby League, who have been acting as a combination of honest broker and broker's man, will announce new owners for London Crusaders; owners who will, they hope, be able to finance the side's continued success in the second division.

Before that, however, the club host one of their biggest games since their heyday, as Fulham, in the early Eighties. Bradford Northern are the visitors to Copthall Stadium in the quarter-finals of the Regal Trophy and while the Crusaders are not seriously expected to win, their performance and the attendance will go a long way towards revealing the sort of future the club can expect. If the Crusaders are to thrive, they need to be entertaining sides of Bradford's quality in front of healthy crowds every other week and to be beating them from time to time.

London have already surprised many people this season, especially during their present unbeaten run of 10 matches. They have considerable try-scoring firepower on the wings in the former discus-thrower Abi Ekoku and the South African Mark Johnson, who returns to play rugby union in his home country during the close season.

The Crusaders' coach, Tony Gordon, has succeeded in helping John Gallagher look like a rugby league player while the former New Zealand Test captain Sam Stewart has added experience and expertise to the pack.

Best of all, however, is the obvious talent of their scrum-half, Mark Riley, another New Zealander who is being eyed covetously by promotion rivals Keighley. He could be the key to a respectable and encouraging display, if not a massive upset, today.

TODAY'S FIXTURES: Regal Trophy fourth round (3.0 unless stated): Salford v Hull; Castleford v Carlisle (3.30); London Crusaders v Bradford Northern. Stones Bitter Championship: Featherstone Rovers v Leigh (3.30); Oldham v Halifax. Second Division: Doncaster v Hunslet; Highfield v Rochdale; Huddersfield v Workington (3.30); Keighley v Barrow (3.15); Swinton v Ryedale- York; Whitehaven v Bramley (3.30).

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