There’s plenty to anticipate in Wales over the weekend as the 2016 season begins to take shape.
Ian Golden reports…
RFL CONFERENCE SOUTH
VALLEY COUGARS v NOTTINGHAM OUTLAWS (Saturday, Treharris RFC, 2.30pm)
Saturday sees Valley Cougars take on Nottingham Outlaws at Treharris RFC in a rematch of last year’s Conference South Final.
And in this early stage of the 2016 season, it’s these two clubs who are the early pace-setters and the result on Saturday will be a good indicator as to who could be top of the pile again.
Cougars’ coach Dafydd Hellard said: “This week’s fixture against Nottingham is one we’re looking forward to. We’ve been improving each week as a team and things are starting to come together. We’ve worked hard in training the last two weeks, concentrating on some of our decision making and attacking shapes.
“Nottingham are a direct team that runs hard in the middle, they use their big forwards and get behind the ruck well.
“Saturday’s game is going to be a tough encounter, all the boys have been fired up this week in training and I’m sure it’s going to be a cracker.”
SOUTH WALES CONFERENCE
CARDIFF CITY RL v WEST WALES RAIDERS RESERVES (Sunday, Rumney RFC, 2pm)
Domestic Rugby League in Cardiff starts its 20th full consecutive season this Sunday as Cardiff City RL host a big day at Rumney RFC, the highlight being the Welsh Conference 2016 season’s opening match against West Wales Raiders Reserves (kick-off 2pm).
The match-up in the first game was inevitable as the two clubs have been linked since the start of the year with some Cardiff players turning out for the Raiders’ first team in the RFL Conference League South.
In addition to the main match, from 10am-2pm in Sunday, the club’s four junior sides will be taking part in games and coaching and the club, who welcomed over 50 junior players to their first session last week, state that all newcomers are very welcome.
In addition, the club are opening their doors to new trialists to take part in a small game against their development 13.
Entry for the day is free. There will be entertainment, refreshments and a bar open all day.
Such large activity is the result of 20 years of development in the capital city. A side called South Wales RL played half a season at Cardiff Arms Park and finished sixth in the division that is now League 1. They applied for a Super League licence and were initially accepted but claims from authorities that the finance wasn’t in place caused an about turn.
South Wales RL was wound up but Cardiff Demons was formed out of the ashes and played in the RFL Academy, reaching a Grand Final in their second season, losing to Hunslet Hawks, with future Welsh RU star Gethin Jenkins starring as prop and future London Broncos Super League player and Wales RL international Gareth Dean in the back row.
Another knock-back from Super League came in 1998 (Super League chose Gateshead Thunder instead), but the Demons carried on and became an open age club in 1999, competing in the Challenge Cup and reaching the third round, only to lose to Keighley Cougars. The entered the competition again in 2003 and 2005.
They entered the Rugby League Conference in 2001 and transferred over to the Welsh Conference in 2004, winning the Welsh Conference Shield and National Conference Shield that year. They reached the Welsh Conference Grand Final for the first and only time so far in 2006.
A split between the club’s junior and senior section led to the juniors becoming Cardiff Spartans in 2009 and in turn forming a senior side for the 2014 season leading to the first ever open age capital derby, the Spartans winning 66-30. The Spartans also won their only trophy that year, beating Neath and District Scorpions in the Welsh under 14 Final.
Last year, the two clubs came back together again as the renamed Cardiff City Rugby League and were seconds away from reaching the Welsh Grand Final. This Sunday sees the kick off of their second season in this guise.
With Cardiff Demons producing Super League and Welsh international players like the aforementioned Gareth Dean as well as others like Elliot Kear, Ben Flower and Aled James, it’s important that the development continues in the capital, and Idris Evans, the National Development Manager for Wales Rugby League, who has been involved with Rugby League in Cardiff as a player and coach, is delighted with Cardiff City RL’s status.
“I’ve been involved in the club since 2004,” he said. “It’s nice to see the club, having gone through a restructure where the juniors and seniors separated, coming back together and we have a stronghold where we’re playing from under 11s up to seniors. This is where Rugby League should have been in Cardiff 10 to 15 years ago and it’s nice to get back to that position once again.
“We had two groups of people, the Demons and the Spartans, doing two similar things in Cardiff. Now we’re together again as one for the right reasons. All the coaches are putting their eggs in one basket and developing the sport of Rugby League as one in Wales’ capital city. I’m sure we’ll see a result of our hard work this Sunday at Rumney RFC.”