Match Preview: North Wales Crusaders vs Toronto Wolfpack

Match Preview by Matthew Shaw of League Express

Match Date: Friday 14th April 2017

Time: 5:00PM BST/12:00PM EDT

Venue: Queensway Stadium, Wrexham

Following last week’s exceptional performance, with an 82-6 victory against previously undefeated Doncaster, Toronto’s travels on Friday take them to the in-form North Wales Crusaders, who have won their last three matches.

Wrexham

North Wales play in Wrexham, meaning the Wolfpack will make their first ever visit to Wales on Friday.

Wrexham is the biggest town in North Wales with a population of around 61,000 people. It is based 81 miles south-west of Toronto’s England base in Brighouse.

Perhaps best know for its football team, Wrexham has been the home of the Crusaders for some time.

Ahead of the current season, the club made the move from the football club’s Racecourse Ground to the Queensway Stadium, a smaller, 8,200 capacity stadium also used as an athletics facility.

North Wales are one of the newest members of the League structure, joining in 2012 following the demise of Celtic Crusaders, a Welsh club that had a short but controversial spell in Super League during the ‘franchise’ era.

After consolidating in their maiden season, the Crusaders earned promotion to the Championship in the 2013 season as they lost just twice all season and won the North Rail Bowl, the equivalent of the League 1 Cup.

They were relegated the following year, and although they did not earn promotion in 2015, they once again won silverware, winning the iPro Sport Cup (a competition for third tier teams) following victory over Swinton Lions.

Financial issues put the club’s future in doubt last year, but the ship now seems to have steadied and they have a new coach in place for the current season, former South Wales chief Mike Grady.

After a poor start to the season, Grady has guided North Wales to two league victories and a place in the League 1 Cup semi-final.

Team News

Paul Rowley could hand debuts to six-time Grand Final winner Ryan Bailey and hooker Sean Penkywicz after naming the pair in the Wolfpack 19-man squad once again.

The duo were in the squad last week but didn’t feature in the 17-man matchday squad. But once again they are in contention to make their debuts.

Three other changes see Andrew Dixon, Jake Emmitt and Jonny Pownall all rested, with Daniel Fleming, Ryan Burroughs and Shaun Pick all moving into the squad.

Wolfpack 19-man squad: Quentin Laulu-Togagae, Craig Hall, Liam Kay, Blake Wallace, Rhys Jacks, Bob Beswick, James Laithwaite, Gary Wheeler, Richard Whiting, Steve Crossley, Adam Sidlow, Greg Worthington, Fui Fui Moi Moi, Jack Bussey, Sean Penkywicz, Ryan Bailey, Daniel Fleming, Ryan Burroughs, Shaun Pick.

North Wales’ 19-man squad: Danny Price, Aaron Moore, Luke Warburton, Simon Atherton, Tommy Johnson, Jack Francis, Ryan Millington, Blake Turner, Andy Unsworth, Corey Lee, Alex Thompson, Callum Mullein, Dale Bloomfield, Ryan Smith, Jack Hansen, Alex Davidson, James Dandy, John Cookson, Jack Houghton.

Key Battles

Following last week’s annihilation of Doncaster, the big challenge is for Toronto to execute at such a devastating level once again.

Consistency is crucial in sport and in coming up against a confident North Wales side a strong performance is necessary.

North Wales themselves showed their offensive qualities against Newcastle as they scored 30 points against Thunder, who had conceded 62 points in three previous games.

Last week against Newcastle their star player was back-row forward Simon Atherton, who should be instantly recognizable in his scrum cap, while their prop forward Jonny Walker is an aggressive, direct player who could cause problems for the Wolfpack if they are not ready for the challenge.

But with Toronto in fine form, they’ll be confident they can go toe-to-toe with their Welsh counterparts.