Jon Sharp has been around the rugby league scene a long time now, but this role as coach of the Crusaders will test his coaching, man-management and diplomacy skills to the utmost.
The Welsh clubs short but turbulent history sets the backdrop for what will be a watershed season, with Sharp joining another former GB coach Brian Noble who is the Crusaders’ Head Coach, in trying to turn around the ailing Crusaders’ fortunes.
Despite the delays in building a squad, which were bedevilled by the uncertainty over where and even if they would be playing in 2010, Sharp is confident the engage Super League club will rise to the challenge when they kick off the new season with a home match against defending champions Leeds Rhinos in 10 days time.
It’s not only the location that has changed for the Crusaders’ the move from Bridgend to Wrexham has seen new owners, appointing a new coaching team and investing heavily in a new squad. All of which means they will take to the field against Leeds as massive underdogs.
But first team coach Sharp and his assistant Iestyn Harris are relishing the visit of the Rhinos to the Racecourse Ground.
“The attitude of the players has been brilliant, they’ve been absolutely outstanding and have worked really hard,”
said Sharp, the former Huddersfield Giants coach who has found himself working with a constantly expanding squad.
“We’ve had a truncated off-season and have players arriving on a daily basis so it’s backs-to-the-wall stuff for us. However we’re experienced as players and coaches and looking forward to that challenge.
“Crusaders had it tough last year when, despite a promising start, they never quite got over the line. Three wins out of 27 games was just not good enough and Brian, myself and Iestyn have come in to try and significantly improve on that.
“Hopefully we can make a difference. With a few more signings and working them really hard, we’re hoping to improve.”
Sharp believes that the experience of the likes of Ryan O’Hara and Tony Martin will be essential to the club’s fortunes in the coming season.
“I think Ryan O’Hara had a great year last year and in a beaten team he was outstanding and certainly one that stood out for me,”
“You look at Tony Martin coming from Wakefield who’s a proven performer and really helpful for us this year and his experience is helping the other guys. I’m sure Tony’s going to have a good year as will Lincoln Withers. Again he’s a name that everyone knows and we expect big things from him.”
The visit of opponents who have won the Engage Super League title in each of the last three seasons can only bring out the best in Crusaders RL and Sharp is hoping the excitement around Wrexham will spur the team on.
“You couldn’t wish for a better start. It’s going to be challenge coming up against a great team who are getting ready for the World Club Challenge, he said.
“But it’s one we’re looking forward to and I think there’s going to be some emotion that night.”
Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground will host Crusaders RL’s first game of the season against current champions Leeds Rhinos on Saturday January 29 kicking off at 8pm.
Tickets can be purchased through the club’s ticket office on 01978 262129 or by visiting www.crusadersrfl.com