The countdown to the 2013 Ruby League season has begun and the North Wales Crusaders, entering their second season in Championship 1, are stepping up their preparations.
With the Northern Rail Cup beginning in March and the league itself in April, the Crusaders’ pre-season plans are well underway.
Pre-season began at the end of the last calendar year with a 34-14 defeat to Swinton Lions, and continued with a 38-16 victory over York City Knights last Sunday. The Crusaders face another away trip to Warrington Wizards this month before a clash with Thatto Heath Crusaders at the beginning of February.
The final fixture before the start of the Northern Rail Cup in March sees the Coventry Bears travel to the Racecourse on 17th February.
The Phoenix club are looking to make amends for a disappointing debut season in Rugby League. In the 2012 Championship 1 the Crusaders finished 8th, two places off the bottom, in a season characterised by chastening defeats at the hands of London Skolars, Rochdale Hornets and Workington Town.
In the 2013 structure, however, only nine teams will play in the Championship 1, following the withdrawal of Northampton Rebels and the decision of the Coventry Bears to wait until the following year.
As the Championship 1 is the lowest tier of Rugby League there is no relegation, whilst there will be no repeat of the unique format that occurred in 2012, where the top four sides were promoted with a six-team-play-off determining the Champions.
As is customary, the 2013 season will see two sides gain promotion; the Champions and the play-off winners of the teams placed between second and seventh.
With such a wide gulf of teams set to compete in the end-of-season play-off, the Crusaders could be forgiven for expecting to participate in the end-of-season finale. With last season’s leading points scorer Tommy Johnson and leading try scorer Rob Massam still on the books, the Crusaders have added no less than eight new players during the off-season.
The re-capture of Stuart Reardon, alongside the acquisitions of Adam Bowman, Phil Braddish, Steve McDermott and Gary Middlehurst (all from Rochdale), as well as Ryan MacDonald from Workington Town, will leave coach Clive Griffiths quietly confident that the Crusaders can make the 2013 season one of progression.
To keep up to date with the Crusaders’ fixtures and results in the 2013 season, head over to their website: http://www.mission2013.co.uk/2013-season/