Wales Rugby League’s domestic leagues kick off their 16th campaign on Saturday (12 May) with matches at four different levels writes Ian Golden.
Valley Cougars are the defending champions of the Premier League, having won a dramatic final in Cardiff last year and as such, they hosted the season launch last Friday.
The opening fixtures in the Premier League on Saturday see just two fixtures – the Cougars host Rhondda Outlaws at Treharris RFC (kick-off 2.30pm) whilst Glamorgan Wanderers host Cardiff Blue Dragons and Torfaen Tigers (kick-off 2pm).
Cardiff also entertain Torfaen in a triple header of junior matches on Sunday from 11am.
Dafydd Hellard, head coach of Valley Cougars, said: “We’re confident in our own ability. We’ve a new build-up of a team this year as we’ve had a few players going to League 1 sides, but we’ve another opportunity this season to achieve. Everyone will be wanting to take our scalp as we’re defending champions and that’s the only motivation we need.”
Nick Fish, coach at Rhondda Outlaws said: “Numbers have been good in training so far this year. We’ve a great relationship with our hosts at Pontypridd RFC on and off the pitch. We want to play a good exciting brand of rugby and the pitch at Sardis Road will suit our style of play. We’ll be going into every game believing we can win, if we didn’t we wouldn’t be in the league, but we know it will be a tough opening game.”
The Premier League, in the first half of the season, will have a unique seventh entrant with Cardiff Blue Dragons having enough players to field two sides. Their development team, which will be known as Cardiff Athletic, have chosen to face each side once and won’t be eligible for the play-offs. All results against them will count in the final table. This, rather than playing friendly matches, has been done to ensure competitive games that sides will fulfil. They kick off their season in week two.
Alf Harvey, director at Cardiff Blue Dragons said: “Last year was about putting the club back on the map and this year, it’s the next step. We want to get into the players and perform well. We also want to have a good junior season, emulate Torfaen and get all four of our sides into finals. We’ve Torfaen first up and there’s a great relationship between the two clubs. Cardiff Athletic is the initiative we needed to bridge the gap between under 17s and seniors. It’ll also give new adult players a side to play for and increase their appetite for the sport without giving them any pressure other than to achieve.”
Ian Newbury, head coach of Torfaen Tigers, said: “We’re running all age grades again and our aim is to make the final at every level. We haven’t managed to get any silverware for a few years now so we want to not just reach finals but take them a step further and win. We’ve linked up with Warrington Wolves so we’re building on that to help grow the game in the Torfaen area and give our youngsters a pathway into the professional game and also get more Welsh players into Super League.”
Llanelli Knights will replace West Wales Raiders in the Premier League and they are expected to utilise a number of the former Raiders players who have not gone on to professional level this year. They kick off their junior season this Sunday with matches at Bridgend Blue Bulls at under 13 and 15 levels, starting at midday.
Neil Davies, head coach of Llanelli Knights said: “We’re going to take it game by game. We’re quite ambitious but we know it’ll be a tough first season. We’ve a few old faces coming back but the intention this season is to develop the new brand and establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. The junior sides have been long established under the Raiders name and I’m sure we’ll be able to keep up the excellent development work they’ve done over the years.”
Jon Hansen, coach at Bridgend Blue Bulls said: “We want to progress further and get the titles back, and that’s at every level, 13s, 15s, 17s and first grade. We’ve a link with St Helens and that’s extra motivation for our youngsters as they have something big to aim for.”
The junior leagues also see another new club in Penlan Wild Stallions of Swansea, who will play at Mynydd Newydd Playing Fields in Swansea. They have entered a side at under 13s and will start their season on 20 May.
Saturday 12 May 2018
PREMIER LEAGUE – Cardiff Blue Dragons v Torfaen Tigers (2pm), Valley Cougars v Rhondda Outlaws (2.30pm)
Sunday 13 May 2018
JUNIOR LEAGUES – Cardiff Blue Dragons v Torfaen Tigers (U13, U15, U17 – from 11am), Bridgend Blue Bulls v Llanelli Knights (U13, U15 – from midday)