ANTHONY MURRAY expects the League One Shield to be ‘hugely competitive’ as North Wales Crusaders prepare for the Welsh derby.
Crusaders will host South Wales Scorpions in their Shield opener on Saturday at Chester’s Hare Lane ground, with The Racecourse out of action due to the pitch being relaid ahead of the upcoming football season.
This is the first of six matches for each club in the bottom half of the table, with the top two progressing into the Shield final in September. With points carried over from the first half of the campaign, Crusaders lie in a strong position (effectively second in the new table) but head coach Murray is anticipating a host of tricky ties.
“We’re in a good position but there’s teams in here that would’ve been hoping to have been in the Super Eight, and everyone around us is strengthening their squads,” explained Murray, who has completed a double signing of Mark Thomas from Eccles and Matt Bradley from Swinton Lions.
“Newcastle have just missed out like ourselves and will be focused on winning the Shield but you’ve got the likes of Gloucestershire and Scorpions who need to prove they’ve improved in this second half.
“We need to make the most of keeping our points and capitalise on the hard work so far. Regardless of who we’re playing these next six matches will be difficult and we’ll have to be very good to reach the final.”
Murray believes Phil Carleton’s Scorpions will pose a bigger threat than earlier in the campaign when Cru ran out 30-16 winners, emphasised by signing former Crusaders prop Jamie I’Anson last week, who had previously quit rugby league to focus on a career in mixed martial arts.
Murray also accepts the irony of the Welsh derby clash taking place across the border in Chester, but is delighted to be back at Hare Lane where Cru recently drew 18-18 with Coventry Bears, stating: “It’s a bit of a mad one isn’t it, a Welsh derby being played over in England! But it is what it is and we’re very grateful to be getting to use Chester’s facilities again.
“I was very impressed with the set up there last time and we were given a warm welcome. Hopefully with the additional fact that it’s on a Saturday means there will be a healthy crowd and a chance to maybe enjoy ourselves a bit more afterwards and make the most of it.
“Scorpions have been very busy over recent weeks with a number of signings and the pressure is on them to show some return in the second half of the season on their substantial investment pre-season, with a new coach and money being pumped in.
“Scorpions always provide us with a tough assignment but hopefully we can turn in another strong performance.”
Scorpions head coach Carleton added: “The key to this part of the season will be ensuring we are at our best all the time. I don’t think I’d be doing any side an injustice by saying before the split, there are games we all target for wins and performances. Now, it’s all about wins.”
Asked if he agrees with the new split in League One, with the former play-off format scrapped, Murray added: “You’ll have to ask me that after the next six games!
“There’s good and bad, it takes away that chance to have a run into the play-offs but on the flip side it makes league position very important all season.
“If it helps improve crowds, which I believe it has in Super League and the Championship, then I’m all for it. We’ll see how it goes.”
Scorpions have snapped up former Crusaders favourite I’Anson on a deal for the rest of the season, the 29-year old prop made 44 appearances for the Crusaders between 2007 and 2008 and was also instrumental in helping the Crusaders Colts side win the summer National Conference in 2008.