Wales’ only side are thriving in the grunt and groan world of touchdowns
Gary Baker on 26/03/2012
Back two decades ago, Wales went gridiron crazy! American football was being shown extensively on terrestrial TV and a surge in popularity hit the UK.
In fact, the Principality boasted four sides across the south, from Newport Mustangs in East Wales to Swansea Dragons in the West - plus two teams spread across Cardiff.
When Channel Four and S4C decided to move away from American Football, however, the popularity also took a backseat despite millions of people across the world tuning in each year to see the highlight of the NFL season, the SuperBowl.
Now, though, one club is waving the Welsh flag again on the British scene in the sport of pads, grunts, groans and heavy hits.
The South Wales Warriors, based at Llanharan RFC, have shown that persistence pays off by standing just one promotion away from their own version of the Premiership.
From a time when they were relegated to using any old spare pitch, the Warriors have found a home and are developing themselves with a vengence.
Referees are 'miked up', a tannoy describes the plays to the crowds and there is a whole range of other initiatives that are turning the Warriors into a great representative for Wales.
And, just to underline their development, the Warriors secured a major trophy last year to put in the cabinet back home.
They overcame the odds last year to hammer favourites West Coast Trojans and take the Division Two Britbowl Final by 48-20 at the Crystal Palace National Arena.
That secured promotion to the first division where they kick-off on April 28 at Llanharan against the wonderfully named Hampshire Thrashers. One more excellent season will see them go up to the top tier.
And there has been major recognition for a couple of players with their call-up to the international stage.
Chairman, coach and line-backer Geraint Roberts said: "Gareth Thomas, our quarter-back, had the game of his life in that final and he has been selected to go with the Great Britain senior team.
"Two other players have also been selected in Spencer Cutlan (wide receiver) and Ben Sherwood (defensive back).
"I think Gareth, in particular, could go far in the sport. He's got the skills and the dedication to go with it.. He tries hard in every training session, and looks at his play books all the time. He's as good as anyone there (in the British squad)."
It is quite a rise for the Warriors, who generally attract around fifty players to their club and have just held a Rookie session to find more fresh blood for the sport of touchdowns and field goals.
The club was formed as Tiger Bay Warriors in 1993. After 16 years of playing, the loss of many players to injury, retirements and the lack of new players saw them struggle.
They forfeited their last game of the 2009 campaign because of their problems but the bigwigs of the national American Football league chose to further hurt the Warriors by relegating them because of their final match withdrawal.
But they have bounced back and, with American Football looking like a good fit in Wales where the oval ball of rugby reigns, they are hoping for more success.
Roberts added: "We get some rugby guys down but we don't just draw our players from that. They come from all over South Wales to play for us."
The memories of last year's final are still lingering even though they are getting ready for the new campaign, which kicks-off on April 1 with a 'scrimmage' match - where teams practice their 'plays' ahead of the big kick-off - with Premier side Bristol Aztecs.
Roberts said: "We expected a tough game against the West Coast Trojans because they won all their games throughout the season.
"But we went three scores up in the first quarter and they had to chase the game and began to make mistakes. However, it was great to beat them by such a big score!
"Now we have to compete in this division and we are looking to make the play-offs but every time you go up, it is about being prepared for the opposition and developing.
"Our aim is to get into the top flight of the Premiership in two years but it is really good to be the only team representing Wales in this sport.
"When we went out onto the pitch for the final, we carried the flag and the national anthem was played for us."
And it is serious stuff for Roberts and his coaching partners David Young (head coach), Darryl Morton (defence) and David Pruett (attack).
"We haven't had a day off in the off-season," said Roberts. "So it is onwards and upwards and we hope to represent Wales in the top flight as soon as possible."
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