ANTHONY MURRAY says his spell as North Wales Crusaders’ head coach has been ‘incredibly rewarding’.

The former Barrow Raiders coach announced he will be stepping down as Crusaders’ head coach at the end of the current campaign following the 18-4 victory over Gloucestershire All Golds on Saturday, his final game in Wrexham.

Murray took charge of Crusaders in June 2014 when he took over the side struggling in the Championship from Clive Griffiths.

Results improved markedly but they were eventually relegated - victims of the leagues being structured - to League One.

The 2015 campaign was a successful one for Murray, as Crusaders reached the end of season play-offs and secured the League One Cup with victory over Swinton at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road.

However, financial problems at The Racecourse club saw several first-team regulars depart on the eve of the 2016 season after being informed of a ‘significant pay cut’ for players’ wages, including the likes of Christiaan Roets, Jamie Dallimore, Joe Burke and Karl Ashall.

Murray, alongside coaches Alan Hadcroft and Adam Daniels, remained with the club and narrowly missed out on reaching the League One Super Eights, eventually dropping into the Shield competition.

Cru’s 18-4 win over the All Golds at the weekend cemented their position in the Shield final, where they will face Newcastle Thunder, and 39-year-old Murray hailed the ‘incredible’ effort he has received from his squad this season.

“It’s been really challenging but I really feel we’ve had some great times at North Wales Crusaders,” he said.

“It’s always been difficult off the pitch from the moment I came here and this season has been especially challenging with everything that has gone on and players leaving. It’s not a decision I’ve come to lightly.

“But you learn a lot about your players and about people when faced with challenges and I feel the group have come together and this season has actually been my most enjoyable.

“The support I have received from the senior players who stayed through the tough times has been incredible. The likes of Stephen Wild, Rob Massam, Tommy Johnson, Jonny Walker, Lee Hudson, Stu Reardon, Alex Thompson, they’ve been exceptional.

“We’ve achieved an awful lot this season. Adversity has provided opportunities for lads in the amateur game to get their chance here and people like Earl Hurst, Simon Atherton and Kenny Baker have shone. The challenge now for the club is keeping hold of them.

“I was delighted to run the open trial too. We got 40 lads through the door for that, a great effort, and we found Billy Brickhill who has been a shining light.

“From that point of view it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

Crusaders chairman Ian Edwards said: “We will be sorry to see Anthony and Alan leave as we had very much hoped they would be with us again next season.

“We appreciate that this season has been a difficult one for them and it is testament to them that they have built a team capable of reaching the Shield final.

“As well as their on-field achievements, they had a great engagement with the fans, who we know will be sorry to see them leave.

“Whilst we are sorry to see them go, they go with our best wishes for the future – I’m sure there’ll be a number of clubs enquiring about their availability.

“Our job will now be to build on the good work they’re leaving behind – hopefully, after a successful trip to the North East.”