BOSSES of Wrexham-based Crusaders dropped the bombshell news yesterday they are pulling out of Super League.
The last-minute decision effectively ends the club’s time in rugby league’s top flight.
It also casts a shadow over ongoing negotiations by Wrexham Supporters Trust to buy Wrexham FC, which shares The Racecourse ground and is also owned by businessmen Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts.
On the day the new league line-up was unveiled, the Crusaders board made the shock announcement they have withdrawn their application to continue playing in it for the next three years.
The current state of finances at the club is blamed for the decision.
But the news immediately sparked a storm of protest, with angry fans and politicians slamming the move.
In a statement Crusaders chief executive Rod Findlay said: “This has not been an easy decision but after a lengthy and exhaustive examination of the club’s finances, our view is that Crusaders is not sustainable as a Super League club at this stage.
“A lot of people have done a lot of work to get us to where we are now, but it has become clear that we cannot continue in our current guise and so a decision was taken to withdraw our licence application.
“It would not have been fair to the players, the supporters, the other clubs or the engage Super League competition for us to proceed with our application.
“We will now sit down with the Rugby Football League to consider our options for 2012 and beyond.
“In the meantime, we remain committed to finishing the current season on a high and I am sure (coach) Iestyn Harris, his coaching staff and the players will do all they can to move us up the tables.”
On Twitter yesterday, Mr Findlay posted: “Application was withdrawn by the directors yesterday. I haven’t lied to anyone.”
Richard Green, chief executive of Wrexham Supporters Trust, which is currently locked into negotiations over Wrexham FC, The Racecourse and Colliers Park training ground, said: “Neither the football club or the rugby club has shared their intentions for Crusaders with us and we need to discuss the implications with the owners.
“Crusaders does provide an income stream for the football club but there are charges to be offset against the income.”
Llyr Huws Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Assembly Member for North Wales, said: “The news of the withdrawal is a complete bolt from the blue and has stunned fans, players and coaching staff alike.
“It’s a disaster for all sports fans in the North.
“This news also jeopardises plans by the Wrexham Supporters Trust to buy the football club and Racecourse ground.
“I would urge Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts to come clean about their intentions and for urgent intervention by Wrexham Council to ensure the Racecourse is maintained as a sporting stadium for the North.”
Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths said: “While it is a matter of regret that we will not be seeing Super League rugby played in Wrexham next season, this is a decision I am sure has been made with the future progress of the team in mind.”
Crusaders moved from South Wales to Wrexham in 2009.
Last December, club owners Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts signed a loan and guarantee agreement between their company Wrexham Village Ltd, the Rugby Football League (RFL) and Super League (Europe) Ltd, using the Racecourse as security.
A spokesman for the RFL said this arrangement would not be affected by yesterday’s announcement.
Neither Mr Moss nor Mr Roberts were available for comment.
IT has hardly been a vintage season for rugby league side Crusaders.
After 22 games, the team are rooted to the bottom of the Super League table with a meagre four points.
Now, though, things could be about to get worse - and not just for the future of the game in Wrexham.
News came yesterday that Crusaders have withdrawn their application to play Super League for the seasons 2012 to 2014.
The decision, says chief executive Rod Findlay, followed 'a lengthy and exhaustive examination' of the club's finances.
Super League rugby 'is not sustainable' and, come the close season, Crusaders will no longer be among the tournament's 14 teams.
It is the end of an - admittedly short - era for the sport, which has a niche yet fervent following across the border in England's north west.
Granting a licence for Crusaders to play Super League in the first place could be seen as an effort by the game's governing body to gain a foothold in Wales.
Two years after their arrival at the Racecourse, it would seem that experiment is over, at least as far as the top flight is concerned.
There is talk of Crusaders playing in the more lowly Co-operative Championship, although at this stage that is not guaranteed.
And we should remember there is a potentially greater cost to Crusaders' departure from Super League.
They started this season on minus four points having gone into administration last November, the legacy of debts largely accrued during their time in South Wales.
The rescue deal saw Wrexham FC owners Geoff Moss and Ian Roberts assume control, with the Racecourse used as security in a loan agreement between Wrexham Village, the Rugby Football League and Super League itself.
And it is here, amid the complex financial arrangements that weave between all parties with an interest in the ground, that speculation will inevitably begin.
Crusaders' future is by no means certain and it cannot be ignored in any discussion about the sale of either Wrexham FC or the Racecourse.
Sports teams on what must be brutally termed 'the way down' are typically faced with falling attendances, the departure of key players and the loss of vital broadcasting revenue.
Will this be the case for Crusaders - and if so, where will that ultimately leave the deal secured on the Racecourse? What if Crusaders folded altogether?
For now these questions cannot be answered. But it is worth recalling - raised eyebrow optional - what Rod Findlay said as recently as March this year.
“I am really excited about the future for Crusaders in Wrexham. Crusaders have a 25-year agreement to play at The Racecourse and this is where we intend to stay.”
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