The sold out signs were up at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, and you got the feeling that this is what it should have been like this time last year.
Like last year, Super League’s newest side faced up against Leeds Rhinos in their opening game of the season, but unlike last year in Bridgend, it had caused somewhat of a buzz around the town of Wrexham, as top flight sport arrived in North Wales for the first time in a very long time.
Even the weather didn’t put anybody off, with 10,334 packing out Wrexham FC’s ground to witness the Crusaders put up a valiant effort in a 34-6 defeat which if anything flattered Leeds, who found themselves deadlocked at 6-6 with little more than 15 minutes left on the clock.
After a winter of turmoil, tagged on to what had been a turbulent season anyway, Crusaders will have no doubt been pleased to get on the pitch. Brian Noble will no doubt have been wondering what he had let himself in for a few weeks ago.
Credit must go to the Crusaders staff for pushing the game out there, but I’m told it couldn’t have been done without the superb support of the local council in Wrexham, who have helped sell the game to what is generally a new area for rugby league.
Posters were displayed all around Wrexham town centre and the furore around the opening game caught the imagination of the local press, who featured the Crusaders on their back and sometimes front pages virtually on a daily basis. Wrexham FC season ticket holders were each offered two tickets (priced £8) and postcards were distributed to homes throughout the town.
Unlike in Bridgend, the Crusaders capitalised on the fuss around the first game. The challenge for them now, is to maintain it.
They have the RFL’s backing that’s for sure. Chief executive Nigel Wood said after the game: “The vast majority of the fans were from Wrexham and North Wales and though many of them were new to the sport, I am sure they will all want to come back for more.
“In the past we have seen examples where a new club has started with a bang but subsequently been unable to sustain early success: Crusaders RL will be aware that the key to their future success lies in their commitment to work even harder in the months ahead.”
There have no doubt been a few grumblings from those who missed out on Super League in 2009 that the Crusaders have effectively been allowed to reform without consequence, while maintaining their Super League licence which was supposedly issued as a result of a sound business plan and fulfilling certain criteria that have changed dramatically since.
But with the backing of fans, Crusaders could become a more logical route for the RFL’s ambitions to expand. A more gradual expansion is surely beneficial to the game and provides stronger foundations than such an outpost in Bridgend ever would.
Unlike a certain TV commentary team, we won’t be getting carried away just yet. The hard work still has to be done. But there was a buzz in the crowd on Friday, and if it catches on, then this franchise may finally take advantages of the opportunities it has been presented.