In the latest of a new series as a part of our match preview line-up, we will be looking at 5 players in the opposition line-up to look out for once they take to the field against the Cougars at the weekend.
We move on to the next edition of the ‘Ones To Watch’ series with Sunday’s opposition at Colwyn Bay’s Stadiwm ZipWorld in Round 9 of the Betfred League One season, the North Wales Crusaders.
Sitting atop the League One try standings with 11 to his name so far in 2021, Rob Massam still poses one of the divisions most dangerous attacking threats.
Now into the third year of his second spell with the Colwyn Bay outfit, he is the Crusaders record try-scorer and third highest appearance maker whilst also developing a reputation as a renowned PT away from the field.
His size, strength, and speed make Rob one of the divisions most recognisable but dangerous outside backs and one that will cause any side problems if given the opportunity to do so.
One of the original North Wales Crusaders, Massam signed with the club ahead of their inaugural season in 2012 after impressing in the trials held by the club in pre-season.
An amateur international with England, the transition to the semi-professional game was seamless for the winger as he instantly began terrorising defences in the third tier.
The clubs leading try scorer in both 2012 and 2013, he was a key figure in the double winning squad of the latter as the Crusaders were promoted as League One Champions and Northern Rail Bowl.
His performances at club level were rewarded as he was selected to be a member of the Wales squad at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup before impressing further once making the step up to the Championship at club level.
Despite relegation straight back to League One, Massam continued to rack up tries as the Crusaders won the iPro Sport Cup in 2015 before having promotion hopes ended in the play-offs at the hands of the Cougars.
Once financial troubles hit, he would make the difficult decision to move across the border and sign with the Rochdale Hornets, and in a two-year spell at Spotland he would score 25 tries in 33 appearances at Championship level before re-joining the Crusaders ahead of the 2019 season.
Despite the Covid pandemic and injury affecting his first two seasons back at the club, he has more than made up for lost time this season and with 11 tries in 8 appearances to date is back on red hot form.
PATRICK AH VAN
On the opposite wing to Rob Massam, the experience and talent of Patrick Ah Van adds a different dimension to Anthony Murray’s side.
A strong ball carrier out of yardage who has played the majority of his career at the very top of the game both here in the UK and back home in Australia, Ah Van offers the Crusaders a very potent attacking threat mixed with superb defensive capabilities.
The 33-year-old Samoa international has already shown that age is just a number as his veteran backline partnership along with Massam and Tommy Johnson is proving a key asset in the Crusaders attacking shape.
After developing in the Bartecard Cup competition in New Zealand, Ah Van made his breakthrough in 2006 as he debuted in the NRL for the New Zealand Warriors.
Coming in and out of the Warriors side, the winger would play in the NSW Cup competitions with the Auckland Vulcans when not selected for the NRL before moving to the UK ahead of the 2011 season when he signed for the Bradford Bulls.
During his sole season at Odsal, he firmly established himself as a favourite amongst the Bradford faithful before the financial difficulties that engulfed the club forced him to depart and make the move to the Widnes Vikings following their admission to the competition ahead of the 2012 campaign.
He would remain in Cheshire until 2019 during a seven-season spell that cemented him as a cult hero at the Vikings.
Ah Van would register 526 points in 123 appearances for the club and played his part in Widnes sides that reached the Challenge Cup semi-final in 2014.
His loyalty and hero status would be further secured in the 2019 season when Patrick played for free during their financial difficulties that resulted from their relegation from Super League the previous season.
A brief spell in France would follow before the winger made the decision to return to the UK and sign with the Crusaders for this season following the conclusion of the French Elite Championship season.
A man who has caused the Cougars trouble throughout the years, Jono Smith will be looking to continue in that vein after returning to the club following a four-year spell away with Rochdale and Barrow.
The back row forward has always been a tricky customer with his mixture of ball playing ability and try scoring capabilities in attack combined with his efforts and attitude in defence long proving to cause the opposition problems.
And the fans favourite has made the most of being back at the Crusaders on the back of an impressive stint in Cumbria.
A member of the original Crusaders squad back in 2012, Jono signed with the club following their pre-season trials and would go onto become a cult hero amongst the North Wales faithful.
Playing his part as a near ever present and key member of the 2013 promotion and Northern Rail Bowl double winning side, Smith earned a reputation for being deadly near the line as shown by his record of 45 tries in 81 appearances during his first spell.
On the back of an impressive personal season in 2015 that saw him reach near 20 tries and win the iPro Sport Cup, financial troubles at the Crusaders forced Jono to make the move along with several other teammates across the border to Rochdale.
Winning a further promotion in 2016 as a member of the Hornets squad that stunned full-time Toulouse to be promoted as Champions, his performances caught the eye of the Barrow Raiders who were quick to secure his services following their own promotion twelve months later.
He would spend three years at Craven Park, again becoming a fans favourite and linking up once more with Jamie Dallimore as their partnership that proved so fruitful for the Crusaders would become that once more for Barrow.
However, following the 2020 season he made the decision to leave the Raiders and re-join his former club ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Returning to the Crusaders for a second spell on loan from the York City Knights, the highly touted Tyme Dow-Nikau will be looking to impress.
An athletic outside back who can also play in the back row, Dow-Nikau originally joined the Crusaders last season but did not make an appearance as a result of the pandemic before moving onto the Knights.
After featuring four times earlier in the season for York, the return from injury of several players saw his options limited and he returned to North Wales on loan last month and he will be looking to push on and impress further in Colwyn Bay.
Son of the former New Zealand international Tawera Nikau, Tyme began his career in the developmental squad setups of NRL clubs Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors.
From there, he would join the Maitland Pickers and Burri Burri Bulldogs in the Newcastle Rugby League Division as well as featuring for the Newcastle Knights NSW Cup side during his time in the district.
Ahead of the 2020 season, he made the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and move to the UK to sign with the Crusaders before moving onto York, one of two clubs along with Warrington that his Dad Tawera played for in the 90s.
The towering presence of Brad Brennan in the front row has become a familiar but formidable sight in the Crusaders pack over the past few seasons.
Bringing size and aggression whether it be starting or from the interchanges bench, Brennan has become a key member of the North Wales side since first arriving at the club three years ago.
And with over 50 appearances for his name to date for the Colwyn Bay outfit, the forward has continued to impress within the pack so far in the 2021 season.
A product of the Warrington Wolves academy after being signed from Wigan St Judes aged 16, Brennan would never make a first team appearance at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and made his professional debut in 2013 on dual registration at the Barrow Raiders.
Becoming a terrace favourite at the Raiders, he made the move to Craven Park permanent before departing for brief spells with both the York City Knights and Hunslet RL.
After his stay in Yorkshire, he returned to the Raiders in 2016 and would be a part of their 2017 promotion winning squad despite spending the majority of that season on loan at the Coventry Bears.
Barrow opted to not retain his services upon their return to the Championship, and Brennan would then sign with the Crusaders ahead of the 2018 season.
Since making the move across the border, he has become a regular within the side under Anthony Murray as well as also becoming a firm favourite amongst fans and teammates alike.
His towering presence will give a different but challenging sort of opponent to the Cougars pack this Sunday.
By Joshua Chapman