North Wales Crusaders will travel to Leigh Sports Village when they take part in Welshman Ian Watson's testimonial match for Swinton Lions on Saturday (kick off 1pm), and this will see the sides face one another for the first time since Crusaders' formation just over a year ago.
Ian Watson, who has returned to the Lions for his fourth year with the club, is currently in his testimonial year, and this clash against North Wales Crusaders will repay him for his services to the sport. Watson made over 30 appearances for the Wales senior team before he retired from international duties at the end of the Four Nations tournament in 2011, where he featured in the test matches against England and New Zealand.
It has been a busy off-season for both clubs with players transferring in and out; North Wales Crusaders have added a great deal of experience to their ranks ahead of 2013 whilst the Lions' squad will be thin on the ground following the exit of a number of first team players.
Crusaders will be without their new signing Gary Middlehurst, though, as he is serving the last game of his suspension, but all of North Wales' other recruits for the new season should be available for the game.
In comparison to last year North Wales Crusaders will face sterner tests in their pre-season scheduele this time around, starting with this clash, and that should enable coach Clive Griffiths to start to gather a realisitc indication as to how his side looks ahead of the new campaign. Although a 100% record in pre-season last year brought confidence within the ranks, it wasn't the test that was required. And head coach Griffiths is pleased with how preparations are going so far. "Training couldn't have gone better. We're taking it gradually, doing a bit of gym, weights and running, and with the Swinton game coming up we've started to do some rugby work", he said.
Griffiths has had a successful coaching career across both codes which has seen him take the post as Wales senior head coach at one point, and that was where he worked with Ian Watson, so he is pleased to be helping out a player that he once mentored. He said: "It's great to celebrate the career of Ian Watson. I was lucky enough to have given him his first cap for Wales, so there's an association there between me and Watto (Ian Watson). When he contacted me about the game, I didn't have to think twice. "And it's great for us to have a game at the end of the year. It's a million miles away from the start of the season, but it's good to have a game, as it's not all training then. We'll be able to integrate the things that we have been working on. "We will be a settled squad by the time the Northern Rail Cup starts. We have this game and then another against a team in a higher league - York - so that will help us to see where we are, and then we can set standards for where we want to be."
Amongst those that have left Swinton ahead of the 2013 campaign are Tom Armstrong, Adam Higson and Dale Cunniffe, and although they have attempted to combat those losses with new signings, with a squad of just 16 plus four trialists, they have little depth in their squad. With the link that the Lions have formed with Warrington Wolves, which sees ex-North Wales Crusaders dual registered player Liam Hulme heading over to ply his trade at Leigh Sports Village, they will be hoping that further players moving across from the Halliwell Jones will add some vital experience to their squad.
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