Today marks the 10-year anniversary since the first domestic Wheelchair Rugby League took place in Wales, as on May 11, 2013, North Wales Crusaders played their inaugural Wheelchair match as they hosted and defeated Swindon St. George 26-6 at Deeside Leisure Centre.
Over the last decade, North Wales Crusaders Wheelchair Rugby League and Disability Sports Club have gone on to become one of Wales Rugby League’s most successful community outfit, whilst becoming one the the UK’s leading Wheelchair Rugby League team.
Since their formation, more than 150 players have donned a Crusaders shirt. Out of those, father and son duo, Stephen and Harry Jones hold the honour to say they’re the only players to have played in every season since their inception. The latter, playing his 100th Crusaders appearance just last weekend in the club’s victory over Bradford Bulls.
The club has also set up a successful youth system, producing Wales international star, Mason Baker whilst also setting up a highly successful schools’ programme which has seen the club visit over 100 schools post-covid, producing a number of players who have gone on to make appearances for the club.
As well as their work off the court through their youth and schools programme, the club has proudly produced a number of international players producing such Welsh stars as Andrew Higgins, Harry Jones, Stephen Halsey and Scott Trigg-Turner as well as Scotland international, Bex Parker.
In total, the club has produced 16 Welsh and one Scottish international, whilst a further four Welsh, one Irish and two English internationals have donned a Crusaders shirt over the years when signing from other clubs.
Stephen Jones, who went on to coach Wales through two World Cups and is now head of Wheelchair Rugby League in Wales, said: “I’m really proud of what we have managed to achieve over the last 10 years. The first club in Wales, first club with two teams in the league, and the growth we have seen over the years just goes to show there is a need for our form of Rugby League.
“When you think that we have supplied Wales, Ireland and Scotland with international players just goes to show the calibre of players we have produced.
“We have always said we are more of a family rather than a club, this is what has helped us grow from our first ever session 10 years ago to the club we are today. It wouldn’t have been possible though with the help we have received from volunteers, Sport Wales and Wales Rugby League.”
Bob Wilson, who helped to create the club, went on to become team manager of the Wales men’s side. He says: “I’ve been so pleased to see the club develop and thrive over the years. Some people said it wouldn’t last 12 months, but I’m so pleased they’ve been proven wrong.
“I was watching the Paralympics in London 2012 and I put an email out to the North Wales Crusaders directors saying we should be doing something like this. What I didn’t know was that Wheelchair Rugby League existed, I’d just watched the Paralympic version. What I also didn’t know was that Matt Pritchard, the development officer in North Wales at the time, was already developing the sport for Wales RL as they’d already played international matches. We then agreed to form a Wheelchair side and that I would take the lead.
“I didn’t realise at the time that we were the first ever professional rugby league club to form a Wheelchair side. There were sides associated with towns like Widnes and Bradford but they were formed in their own entity and later adopted the name of the pro side.
“We set up an independent charity and with the help of Matt, we were able to get funding from Sport Wales and we bought ten chairs, before we had anyone there to sit in them. People like Harry and Steve Jones were there from the start, and six weeks before our first game, we launched the sport with people like Mike Nicholas giving it a go.
I’ve been delighted to see how the side has progressed and developed players, and I was over the moon to see Mason Baker go on and play for Wales. I remember going to his primary school when he was 10 years old and present him with a “Young Player of the Year” award.
“North Wales Crusaders Wheelchair Rugby League and Disability Sports Club have done so well throughout the last decade. I’m proud and glad it’s still going, I’m very aware that it’s other people’s work that’s kept it going and I take my hat off to them. Happy anniversary.”
To mark their 10-year anniversary, the Crusaders commissioned a limited edition playing shirt which features the names of all those who played for the Crusaders in their first ten seasons (excluding 2023 signings). To purchase one of these shirts, contact, email@example.com.