15th February 2018, 23:48
Preview: Crusaders and Raiders begin 2018 season
North Wales Crusaders and West Wales Raiders will kick-off their League 1 campaigns on Sunday.
Mike Grady's Crusaders will host London Skolars at Queensway Stadium, while West Wales will face Newcastle Thunder in Llanelli.
It will be a particularly special day for the Raiders, who have taken over the club previously known as South Wales Ironmen and will play their first match in the semi-professiona ranks.
West Wales were well-established within the amateur game in Wales, but they now embark on an exciting new era.
During pre-season, the Parc Stebonheath outfit, who are now coached by Jon Ellis, opened their account with a 60-0 defeat at North Wales Crusaders.
Action for the recent pre-season friendly between Crusaders and West Wales
In their final outing ahead of the competitive season, West Wales lost 30-10 to London Skolars at Ealing.
Ahead of 2018, the Raiders have recruited a side with a mix of youth and experience.
While Welsh internationals such as Morgan Evans and Connor Farrer have signed deals, a number of West Wales players have stepped up from amateur to semi-professional.
Arguably the stand-out signing for the new season is Australian Mark Asquith, who can play either at fullback or in the halves.
"A lot of players are 20 or 21 and have been given two or three-year deals," West Wales owner Andrew Thorne said.
"We're hoping that they'll be peaking at the right time in a couple of years."
North Wales Crusaders, meanwhile, also had two friendly fixtures.
After the victory over West Wales, they put up a strong fight against a St Helens side that included Super League stars Matty Smith, Luke Douglas and Adam Swift.
Although they eventually lost 38-26, Crusaders more than watched their opponents for the majority of the match and the scoreline slightly flattered Saints.
For 2018, Mike Grady's squad looks similar to last season's, but they have made welcome additions in a few areas.
The club's best piece of business is the capture of Steven Roper, who played for Whitehaven last season and has plenty of experience in both League 1 and the Championship.
Elsewhere, Aaron Moore and Joe Bate, who both had a solid 2017, have made their loan deals permanent and the additions of Brett Whitehead and Brad Brennan will add some extra size in the forwards.
Jordan Case and Alex Trumper have both joined from Championship club Rochdale Hornets, while winger Gavin Conroy has stepped up from the amateur game and has impresssed during pre-season.
🏉 2018 | Who's ready for the start of League 1? 💪@NWCrusadersRL and @WWRaidersRL are both in action on Sunday! 🏴 🐉🐲— Wales Rugby League (@WalesRugbyL) February 15, 2018
🎟️ https://t.co/RnjMFhvZnY#WalesRL #NWCrusaders #RaidersRL #rugbyleague pic.twitter.com/V3dKqMnfEB
Tickets for Crusaders' clash with London Skolars are priced at £10 for adults, £7 for concessions and £3 for U16s. It is pay on the gate.
For West Wales' opening weekend fixture, it is ticket-only and you can pre-purchase tickers HERE. Adult tickets are £10, while concessions and children can gain entry for £6.
Photos by Richard Long