General Celtic Crusaders news.


Thursday 15 Jan 2009 07:30
by Anthony Seibold (Press Release)


Celtic Crusaders Assistant Coach and Football Manager Anthony Seiblold writes an editorial about the Welsh Super League franchise and savagely hits back at the criticism leveled at it.

Many supporters and onlookers from in and around the Crusaders and South Wales and also in the wider Rugby League community in the North of England offer many and varied opinions on the Welsh presence within our squad and what the club should and should not be doing with regards to having more Welsh players playing at Super League level and within our squad.

Some are ill-informed and many not so practical in producing a competitive Rugby League team or player capable of playing at the highest level. I am going to be a little controversial and offer some thoughts and opinions and try to spell out our charter for producing more Welsh players who are up to the standard and capable of competing in Super League.

That last statement is the key statement, players of Super League standard. What does it take to produce a Super League player who is capable of competing and succeeding against the best Super League has to offer at clubs like Leeds, St Helen's, Bradford, Wigan, Warrington, Hull FC etc? A player may be able to lift himself for a one off game as seen in some Challenge Cup performances or one-off friendlies as we have seen over time, but what does it take to then for that player to be able to compete and play well against Leeds the next week, then Wigan the week after that then Hull KR the week after that then Huddersfield the week after that and so on and so on for 27 games?

Let me take you back a little and give you a historical lesson on Celtic Crusaders from a recruitment perspective. In three years, the Crusaders have used 57 Welsh born players in the first team in National Leagues One and Two. That is 57 players who would not have had the opportunity to taste professional rugby league unless they migrated to the north of England. Of those players, how many have shown that they could compete at the level required for what is effectively the second and third tiers of the professional game in the UK and be regulars in the starting 17?

We have also had a Colts squad who played in the National Conference last season and with the exception of Philippe Gardent, was full of young Welsh lads playing the game at a level that was sound but well below National League Two and the professional arm of the game. So how many of these players could come on and play Super League?

There were some signs for the future with some individual performances from players such as Lloyd White, Gil Dudson, Geraint Davies and Mark Wool that suggested that in the right environment they may be able to compete at the higher levels. But what a jump for a young man from what is effectively the fifth tier of the game in the UK (although BARLA would argue that their elite level amateur competition is far stronger then the Conference National and from my observations when living in Hull is that would be the correct assumption). That is in no way to disregard what the young guys did last year as they were playing men in what is a very competitive League and they did a tremendous job under coach Dan Clements. So when people suggest it is simply a matter of adding a player from the Colts team to the Super League squad it is not that simple as the players welfare and development must must be taken into account.

The idea behind putting our Colts in the Conference National last year was to give them some experience of playing rugby league week in week out in a environment we knew that was not beyond them (we look like we got that decision correct as we had great tussles all year with Bramley Buffaloes and our first victory against them game in the Grand Final) over a season and to get some playing history behind them. For many it was year one in their Rugby League education. How do we create young players who are capable of playing Super League?

In 2006 in taking on the role of Head Coach at the Celtic Crusaders, John decided that he needed to recruit some players and staff that he had worked with previously in Australia in order to assist him in developing the Welsh players and in making the side more competitive at National League Two level initially and to see what he had at his disposal here in Wales.

History shows that Jace Van Dijk, Damien Quinn and Tony Duggan have been here from the start and no one could argue against their contribution to the Crusaders and Rugby League in Wales in general. Jace Van Dijk won the National League Two Player of the Year in 2006, Tony Duggan won the same award in 2007 and Damien Quinn won the National League One award in 2008. Along the way the Crusaders have achieved promotion from National league Two, made the Grand Final of National League One and received a Super League licence. Is this luck or did John get his recruitment correct in developing a competitive outfit initially before concentrating on development?

In 2009 their faith, perseverance, determination and hard work pays off with them getting an opportunity to play at the highest level of the game here in the UK. Before coming to the UK they had a combined total of one NRL game between them (Tony debuted for the Brisbane Broncos in 2004 v Canterbury) and there was some criticism within the Rugby League fraternity in the North of bringing in players who had not played at the highest level in the NRL and putting them in front of British players. The success of Jace, Damien and Tony has been something you could write a book about.
What this shows is that they have come through the right development structures in Australia, gained experience along the way at each level they played (NRL, first team squads, Queensland Cup, NSW Premier League, NL2 and NL1) and they are more rounded players and I would argue better players now then when they arrived in 2006 as they have come through and developed at the right pace and are ready for Super League and to compete week in week out against the best.

Rugby League is a late specialisation sport, and for all those who think that you can't make it if you have not played at NRL level or Super League level before you are 20 are thinking with their fiscal head on rather then their development head. I will take great pride and satisfaction in watching these three guys make their debuts in Super League in 2009. They deserve every success that comes their way.

Back to producing Welsh players capable of competing at Super League level. When John and I arrived, we looked to the Welsh Rugby Union Premiership and the Welsh Rugby League Conference for players who may be able to compete at National League Two (the third tier of professional rugby league). This did not really eventuate in producing the right standard of player. The Premiership Union competition prior to the introduction of the regions had a proud history and showed it was capable of producing international rugby union players and also some players who were able to cross codes successfully at club such as Salford, Widnes and Warrington. The standard of competition from speaking to those with more knowledge then me of the Welsh game have said the standard of rugby at that level has dropped alarmingly in recent times.
In 2006 we recruited players spread far and wide throughout the Welsh Premiership including players from Neath, Aberavon, Bridgend, Maesteg, Pontypool etc. Famous clubs in Wales with proud histories. How many of these showed they were capable of playing at National League Two?

Hywel Davis, Richard Johnson and Grant Epton were regulars in our 17 over the first two years of National League Two and gave a great contribution to the Crusaders and guys like Lee Jones and Dean Fitzgerald were good squad players who also made a contribution towards our success in the first two seasons. The large majority of players we recruited from the Premiership could not handle the intensity, speed and skill level of the National League Two and this showed that the introduction of regional rugby had left behind the game at Premiership level in Wales. Some players could simply not handle the professionalism required at the third tier of the game. How could they handle Super League? How do we produce Welsh players of Super league standard? The Welsh Premiership and the Welsh Conference was not the answer.

So do we go to the regions? Perhaps? There will always be players who are more suited to rugby league then rugby union and also the other way round due to body shapes etc. Therefore we will always have one eye on players who we think fit the mould and could successfully make the transition from union to league. Ben Flower for instance, who we recruited from the Dragons, is far more suited to league (because of his height and lineout throwing ability) due to his running game and aggression and he will be a Super League player in 2009. He played at international level at every age group for the WRU but his future is in League. The other problem we have when looking to the regions for possible recruits is a logistical one. They finish their season in May, we start ours in February. How do we contract a player who will miss half the season? Tough isn't it? Not as simple as some suggest in going out and buying union players.

What about International players? What incentive do they have to leave Union at present when they are part of the international set up? In my opinion, there are some suitable players from the Welsh international squad who would make great Rugby League players because of body shape and their abilities which could transfer. If I had a wish list, the four guys who would be at the top of it when looking at Welsh international rugby union are Lee Byrne, Andy Powell, Mike Phillips and Gavin Hanson, who from my observations would succeed at both games because they could transfer their skills, running games and defensive abilities between either code.

But why would they come to the Crusaders at present? All are integral members of the Welsh rugby union squad and they don't need to take the risk to test themselves in rugby league.

And it is a risk as they would not be guaranteed to be successful at Super League level against teams such as Leeds and St Helens. What a challenge it would be though for them to play another sport at the highest level. Maybe that would be a challenge they would like to take before they retire (Byrney you know my number)? Who knows? That is not the answer to producing Welsh players capable at competing at Super league level. What is?

The Welsh presence at Super League level will be a gradual one and one that increases over time, not over night as we set about producing more players capable at playing the elite level of the game. I said that right - Welsh presence. We are a Welsh club who want to produce more Welsh players. Our charter is not to produce more English players for the RFL or players for the Great Britain team that no longer exists, but Welsh players. In all our recruitment from day one we could have gone to the North of England more and more rather then for Australians we have brought in like Jace, Tony and Damien. But what is the point of going to the North of England?

If as a coaching staff we don't know what their development structures and Rugby League education is like? That would have been more of a risk in putting together a competitive team at the lower professional levels. That does not produce more players who are Welsh.

We will always look for quality out of the north like Budworth, Blackwood, Lupton, Smith, Tyrer, James etc but we wanted to recruit players who we know had been developed the right way and through systems we thought could add something to the development of our young players here in Wales. That meant recruiting Australian players that both John and I had worked with, played or coached with or against or know have come through the right development systems in the NRL. Their charter is to make us more competitive in the short to medium term. The longer term it is about producing Welsh players who are capable of competing at Super League. (Are you sick of me saying that?)

Therefore recruiting players like Lincoln Withers, Mark Bryant, Adam Peek, Marshall Chalk and Ryan O'Hara and keeping guys like Jace Van Dijk, Tony Duggan and Damien Quinn is so instrumental in making the Crusaders competitive at Super League level initially and for their experience and professionalism to rub off on the young Welsh players. But where are these Welsh players?

The Welsh players are here! They are four to seven years away from being Super League players not four to seven months as some would like to think, players who can compete each week against the best Super League has to offer. It is not easy. One good game against the Bramley Buffaloes does not mean that we have a player who can play week in week out against the best of Super League.

The Crusaders future are the kids between 12-16 who are in our four Regional Home Grown Development Squads based in and around Newport/Cardiff, Bridgend, Swansea/Aberavon and RTC/Merthyr. We are a Welsh club! They are the kids who are not in those squads yet but are out there waiting for our Head of Youth Performance Andy Lindley with assistance from Dan Clements in his role of Development Officer and the other Home Grown Squad coaches to identify. They are the 24 Elite kids who will be part of our Elite Home Grown squad (Scholarship programme) based at the Brewery Field this coming summer. They were the 90 kids from all around Wales who trialled for the Crusaders Foundation under 16 team on Saturday at St Joseph's School at Newport. They are the kids playing in 114 schools teams as part of the WRL/RFL led Schools Challenge Cup here in Wales.

For the long term sustainability of the Celtic Crusaders in Wales we have to put time and resources into these kids to enable them to gain the training history, playing experiences in the correct professional (don't think money think best practice) environment in order to develop into players who can compete at Super League level. They all wont make it and it is just a pipe dream if we think this is just going to happen and we will have 17 Welsh born and bred players running out the tunnel of our brand new stadium in 2012 with 15,000 screaming fans watching the team as it sits on top of the Super League competition! It would be great, but not realistic at present.

Look at teams like Wigan, Hull KR and Bradford. They have had over 100 years to develop home grown players and I would not know the last time Wigan ran out with 17 players all born and bred in Wigan. That is not a criticism of the famous club, just a fact and Wigan understand they need players from other areas of the UK and also overseas to compete each week in Super League and be successful long term. That is a silly argument from many who are misinformed that each side will have only those born and raised in their city/town (country in the Crusaders and Catalans case) playing for their club at professional level. As I said a nice dream but not realistic at a professional sports level.
When Wakefield played Castleford in the game to decide who was relegated in 2006 14 of the 17 Wildcats were antipodeans (Kiwis and Aussies)! Hull KR are one of the most proud and historical clubs in the UK game yet they still had 10 antipodeans in their squad last year and this from the most rugby league cultured city that I have seen in the UK.

If we can have one or two graduates a year from our scholarship program that go on to play Super League level then it will have been a remarkable success, almost unparralled. Between 1-3 % of all kids recruited as part of development squads or scholarship schemes in professional rugby league, go on to play one NRL or Super League game let alone enjoy a career at Super League level (what constitutes a career? One season, 50 games, 100 games? Careers will become shorter and shorter as the intensity of the game increases but that is for another blog).

It is a small window isn't it? That is not much of a conversion rate for the amount of time and money invested, but it is a necessary investment. There will always be exceptions to the rule but that is what current research suggests. Leeds Rhinos are a shining example for all to see with the success they have at bringing through players from within their systems. We have a challenge at the Crusaders and it is a medium to long term challenge in producing the right players from within Wales to co-exist with the right players we identify from elsewhere to make a competitive team. But what an exciting challenge! It is one that the Crusaders are up for and a challenge that we have to up for, in order for the club to be sustainable.

We will always need players from the NRL and other Super League clubs to supplement our Welsh players in order to gain success and improve results at first team level and for us to compete as a club year upon year - fact! That is going to happen whether people like it or not, those who think otherwise have never worked in a professional sporting environment.

So to answer my question where are we going to find Welsh players capable of competing at Super League level?

Well we have found them and they are there here in Wales. We know they are here and we know how old they are, we just have to uncover them.

Over to you boys.

Anthony Seibold is the Assistant Coach and Football Manager of the Celtic Crusaders, who will enter the engage Super League competition in 2009.

News Source:
NU do you know the line-up they will use next year? I know they have signed a few aussies, i was wondering how many welsh players will be in the first team named
As far as i know most of the squad are made up of Welsh players but as the article says with most players coming through the union ranks most haven't got the basic skills needed to compete at a high level like the ESL.
Crusaders are beiing hit hard by the new visa rules. eight of their aussie based players still waiting for their visas which is hampering their build up.
Aussie visa delays hit Super League club
Fledgling Welsh rugby league club Celtic Crusaders face starting their first season in Britain's Super League without eight Australian-based players who are still waiting for visas.

Crusaders coach John Dixon hopes the red tape can be cut by the time the Crusaders take on World Club Challenge champions Leeds Rhinos in their season opener at Headingley on February 6.

"In an ideal world you'd want all 25 members of your squad together preparing for the season," Dixon said.

"We're doing all we can to get around it, training hard with the guys who are here, and making sure the players still in Australia are preparing as best they can.

"They are all on conditioning programmes, and they have each been designated to train with an Australian club to keep their hand in."

Tightened UK immigration procedures, which came into effect last November, have been blamed for the delay at the British consulate in Canberra.

As a result, former NRL players Josh Hannay, Darren Mapp and Ryan O'Hara have been unable to join their team-mates since a three-week training camp in Queensland before Christmas.

Also delayed are captain Jace Van Dijk, Tony Duggan, who qualifies to play for Wales this year, Mark Dalle Cort, who has played for St George Illawarra and North Queensland's second grade sides, and 2008 National League One player of the year Damien Quinn.

Papua New Guinea international Jason Chan, who is at Penrith's feeder club, Windsor Wolves, is also awaiting a visa.

Dixon was confident the necessary paperwork for all players would be granted eventually.

"Our guys all have the approval of the Rugby Football League to get a work permit," he said.

"It's not a case of if, we just don't know when. It could be today.

"But whatever happens, we'll still be up at Leeds in February with the strongest team we can."

Several other clubs are reported to have been affected by the new immigration rules, but none as badly as the Crusaders, whose football manager Anthony Seibold recently defended the club's Australian recruitment policy.

Just a handful of their squad were born in Wales, where rugby reigns supreme over league.

"The Welsh presence at Super League level will be a gradual one and one that increases over time, not overnight," Seibold told Sky Sports last week.

"We will always look for quality out of the north.

"But we wanted to recruit players who we know had been developed the right way and through systems we thought could add something to the development of our young players here in Wales."

The club, based in Bridgend in South Wales, won a licence from the Rugby Football League last year to join Super League from 2009-11.
These new visa requirements seem to be hitting all the professional sports over in England.
soccer I think would be one of the least affected since nearly all of them would have EU passports. the likes of league,cricket and union where you get more non-european/eu players trying to get across are definitely being affected. certainly hurts a team like the crusaders trying to get established in a new comp for them.
Why exactly have they cracked down, it seems to serve no purpose other than create more red tape.
Actually, now that i think about it.....are Sky NZ covering the ESL again this season?
Actually, now that i think about it.....are Sky NZ covering the ESL again this season?

not totally sure might have to email them. aus are getting something like 70 game live this year through channel nine so hopefully we can get similar coverage here.
Last season we were getting some weeks 2 games live and the same games later in the weekend and other weekends just one game live and no replay, seemed to be a flip of the coin what we got.

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