Pre-season opener against Swinton Lions in North Wales Crusaders’ new era will provide good marker

Sunday’s clash with Swinton will be Mike Grady’s first game in charge of North Wales Crusaders. Picture: Matthew Jones (@mattjimages)

A new era: the best way to describe North Wales Crusaders’ 2017 campaign.

Although Crusaders have a new head coach in former South Wales boss Mike Grady, it is the club’s move from The Racecourse to Queensway Stadium that provides the biggest change.

The Racecourse has hosted home fixtures since the club was formed in 2012 and it is a great arena for a semi-professional side to play matches. Since 2014, however, an alternative venue was needed each summer because of maintenance work on The Racecourse’s pitch. There is no doubt that relocating temporarily each season does cause disruption. Now, Crusaders have a home venue all year round and there is the added bonus of increased revenue streams, such as being able to run a bar.

With Queensway’s availability outside of gameday, Crusaders have already been able to hold an open training session. Not only did it give supporters the chance to watch the players train in North Wales — a step in the right direction — but members of the club’s U18s squad also joined in with the session. At five years old, Crusaders are still only young as a club and the players coming through the ranks are those who will hopefully go on to represent the club in future years.

How does Crusaders’ 2017 squad look?

I’ll be honest; the work carried out by Grady and his coaching staff over the off-season is very impressive.

Losing Scott Turner towards the end of 2016 and then local lad Rob Massam after the season finished were big blows, as the two wingers are up there with the best in League 1.

How do you replace them? Well, you can’t do much better than Dale Bloomfield and Corey Lee, two other wingers who have proved their worth in the third tier.

Dale Bloomfield, one of Crusaders’ off-season recruits, takes part in an open training session at Queensway Stadium. Picture: Matthew Jones (@mattjimages)

On top of that, the additions of the likes of John Cookson, James Dandy and Daniel Price will bring further experience to the squad.

Meanwhile, the majority of last season’s squad have stood by the club, providing a good balance of youth and experience.

Without seeing Crusaders in action, it’s difficult to make too many predictions, but they should certainly be challenging for a top eight spot in 2016 and could prove to be the division’s surprise package next term.

What are Swinton like?

The Lions began their pre-season campaign with a solid 32–14 win over Oldham last weekend.

Swinton will have been some people’s favourites to be relegated in 2016 after their promotion the season before. However, they performed well last season and ended up ninth in the table.

If their recruitment over the winter months is anything to go by, they will be looking to build on their work in 2016.

Matt Sarsfield, who has plenty of experience in the Championship, returns to the Lions after spells with Leigh Centurions and Halifax.

Meanwhile, the recruitment of Grant Gore and Chris Hankinson — two up-and-coming prospects — are decent pieces of business.

Prediction

Although Crusaders should provide a decent test for their visitors, Swinton already have a pre-season fixture under their belt and have a lot of quality within their squad. Lions by 16.

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