Premier League blasts off in the Valleys

Wales Rugby League’s new Premier League kicks off tonight (12th May) with a thrilling encounter at Cwmbran RFC when old rivals Torfaen Tigers and Valley Cougars kick-off at 7.00 pm, (writes Ian Golden).

Saturday’s two fixtures see the rebranded Cardiff Blue Dragons take on last year’s Welsh domestic champions Bridgend Blue Bulls at their new home at Glamorgan Wanderers RFC, whilst West Wales Raiders take on newcomers Rhondda Outlaws at Parc Stebonheath in Llanelli (both kick-off at 2.00pm).

Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers and West Wales Raiders have come back to the Welsh set-up after the RFL’s Conference League South was closed down at the end of last season, so both the Cougars and Tigers will be determined to make their first game in Wales’ new rebranded competition a winning one.

The Cougars reached the Grand Final of last year’s Conference South, but they know that any one of the six sides in this season’s Premier League is capable of winning the competition.

Torfaen chairman Rob Davies said: “We’ve recruited well in the off season, picking up players from the student game, the military and northern clubs as well as local rugby union. These additions will complement the existing squad nicely. It’s also fantastic news that our first batch of junior players have now ‘aged out’ into the senior team.

“We’ve been training hard for a few months. It was disappointing to have two friendlies cancelled due to the weather but we managed a run out against Bristol Sonics that saw a comfortable win with a side containing seven debutants.

“The moment the fixtures were released, this was the game people were looking for as it’s the biggest club game in the Welsh Rugby League. I’m sure it’ll be tight, hard fought encounter as always.”

Cougars coach Dafydd Hellard added: “Matches between us and the Tigers are always entertaining. They’re one of the highlights of the season, let alone of a round, so to kick off the new Premier League with this fixture will ensure that the competition starts with a bang. We’ll have a mix of old and new players and of course our large and boisterous travelling support, so expect fireworks and a great atmosphere in Cwmbran on Friday night.”

Cardiff Blue Dragons’ move to Glamorgan Wanderers is a positive step for the capital club but their welcoming of Bridgend Blue Bulls to the Memorial Ground will be a baptism of fire for the home side.

Blue Dragons’ team manager Alf Harvey said: “It has been a busy pre-season cementing the relationship at Glamorgan Wanderers and recruiting coaching staff and volunteers. After a successful set of pre-season games, the senior team are in a good place prior to the season kick-off against the always impressive Bridgend Blue Bulls.

“The club has seen an excellent response from the community so we will be fielding a full junior section for the first time at all age levels. We are looking forward to welcoming all the age grades of Bridgend Blue Bulls over the weekend which we are sure will be a great advert for junior Rugby League in South Wales.”

An Under 15s encounter between the two sides precedes this game with the Under 13s and Under 17s games taking place on Sunday from 11.00am.

Bridgend team manager Stephen Smith said: “We’re defending our title and we’ve done that before, but this season will be tougher with three sides coming into the League from English competitions. We start against Cardiff who we know very well and it’ll be a tough encounter.”

In Llanelli, West Wales Raiders, who have already played five pre-season friendly matches, will be looking for a positive start against Rhondda Outlaws, but the away side will in turn want to make their first ever open-age game be a positive one.

Raiders’ director Andrew Thorne said: “This Saturday sees the Raiders play their sixth game of 2017. I’m looking forward to this weekend, we’ve got a full day of Rugby League at Stebonheath Park as we have our Under 13s, Under 17s and senior squad playing. This will be the first game this season for the junior sides, who have looked good in training.

“As for the senior squad, we have had a good year so far, taking on some good teams. Our last outing didn’t go as planned, but it has probably helped the lads get grounded again ready for this season’s Welsh Premier League campaign. Rhondda Outlaws are new and you never know what to expect with an unknown team so I know the coaches will be looking to put the season on track straight for the start. I would like to wish all the teams good luck this season.”

Outlaws’ coach James Allen said: “We know it’s going to be a tough game against the Raiders at their place as they’ve had a number of pre-season friendly matches. We’re still accepting new players for the season and we train at Sardis Road in Pontypridd on Wednesdays at 7.00pm. Our first home game of the season is against Valley Cougars at Sardis Road on Saturday week and I know there will be a fight for places for that one.”