It’s been a turbulent week over in Bridgend, hasn’t it? All kinds of stuff going on, and none of it good.
First of all, Leighton Samuel has had to come out and reassure everyone about the financial security of the Celtic Crusaders. It was nice of him to do this, but the mere fact that he had to come out and do this is a worrying development in itself. At least he also had the backing of those at the RFL (this in itself seemed rather revealing about the RFL’s expasion priorities).
Then we also had the Crusaders announcing they were considering a move to Newport, which seemed to indicate a worry aboput their status in Bridgend (it also seemed like a poorly thought-out attempt at hyping their game against Leeds Rhinos in Newport). Of course, this was within the context of needing somewhere to play whilst they have a new stadium built (they tried reassuring everyone about their commitment to Bridgend) but in a week like this, it’s all too easy for somebody to spin something like this the wrong way.
Then there was the fact that the club is now under investigation from the UK Border Agency over visa irregularities. Again, this probably doesn’t mean all that much (it has been well documented how many players have had visa problems this year, and the Crusaders pre-season was destroyed by late visas) but any time the phrase ‘under investigation’ is used in a report about a club, it rarely looks good.
Finally, there’s the news that Tony Duggan and Damian Quinn will be leaving the club at the end of the year. Both men have been around the club basically from the beginning, and are core players for the side. Of course, if they can actually replace them with some quality talent then this could prove to be a blessing, but it does seem to indicate an end to the first phase of the Crusaders project (to me at least) that they now know they need to bring in new talent (or develop their own).
On the one hand, it’s hard not to see this week as a massive prolonged PR cock-up. It should also be pointed out that the Crusaders have to shoulder quite a lot of the blame for this themselves and will have been under extra scrutiny as they appeared to benefit from an RFL expansion agenda when the Super League licences were announced. On the other hand, it should also be pointed out that these are natural growning pains for a club (and business) that is still getting used to the level it is required to be at. Everyone new it would be a hard task to get the Crusaders up to speed, but I’m not sure the RFL realised just how difficult it would be.
In the end, as long as people learn from this week then that’s fine. As long as the people at the Crusaders remember to check that the paperwork of their players are in order, then that would be a start. As long as they make sure they know who their fans are and who they are appealing to, and don’t seem to be abandoning them when things don’t appear to be going their way (even if they’re not) then that’s good too. And as long as they can get their house in order (with help from the authorities if necessary) then that would be good for everyone. It’s going to be hard enough for the Crusaders as it is, without having even more of a negative perception around them.