NORTH WALES CRUSADERS are all set for the start of their competitive season - and they will come up against some familiar faces this weekend.

Sunday sees Carl Forster’s new-look charges entertaining Swinton Lions in the 1895 Cup as the 2024 season gets underway at Colwyn Bay’s Stadiwm CSM.

A number of former Cru favourites could feature for the visitors, with Swinton now boasting the likes of Jack Houghton, Cole Oakley, Matt Fletcher, Jordan Gibson and Gavin Rodden amongst their ranks.

It’s a tough start to the season for League One Crusaders against their Championship opponents and head coach Carl Forster said: “The gap is obviously there.

“There’s a huge difference in pretty much everything.But I am confident.

“There’s a lot of ex-Cru players in the Swinton team.

“We’re not a million miles away and I think there’s a few of the boys in our team which can play in the Championship.

“We’re going into the game with nothing to lose.”

Swinton landed Houghton at the end of last season and head coach Alan Kilshaw told the club’s website: “Jack has been a real fans’ favourite at North Wales Crusaders and his performances this season have gained a lot of attention from other clubs.

“We are therefore delighted he has joined the Lions and we are very confident he can take his game to new heights with the environment and support he will have at our club.

“He’s a big unit and carries the ball really well and defends tough, and we are sure he can develop these qualities further in a Swinton shirt next season.”

Another player to make the switch from Cru to the Lions over the autumn was Fletcher, with Kilshaw saying: “Matty is a player who I’ve been really impressed with over the past two seasons when he has been a stand out performer in the North Wales Crusaders team.

“We feel his best role is as a 13 because he has some really good ball playing attributes.

“Matty has also played well at back-row and has filled in at stand-off.

“He was another player who was chased hard by a number of teams, but he has bought into what we want to achieve at this club and we are delighted to have him here for 2024.”

Crusaders scored first and last as they lost out 32-18 at Championship club Barrow in their sole pre-season run out earlier this month.

There were big positives as the tries came from Matt Unsworth, Toby Hughes and Pat Ah Van, while vice-captain Owain Abel kicked three conversions.

In a revamp for this season’s 1895 Cup, the 13 England-based Championship clubs are joined by eight League One clubs in seven groups of three teams, with the top team in each group – plus the best-performing second-placed team – going forward to the quarter finals.

Widnes Vikings are the other team in Crusaders’ group.

Holders Halifax Panthers go to Oldham on Sunday. Tomorrow, Newcastle Thunder host York Knights.

Sunday’s other ties: Workington v Barrow; Keighley v Dewsbury; Hunslet v Featherstone; Midlands v Doncaster.

Tomorrow’s Challenge Cup ties: Leigh Miners Rgrs v Stanningley; Clock Face Miners v Siddal; Doncaster Toll Bar v West Hull; Fryston Warriors v Hunslet ARLFC; Hull Dockers v Wath Brow Hornets; Lock Lane v Edinburgh Eagles; Wests Warriors v Rochdale Mayfield; Hammersmith Hills Hoists v West Bowling. Sunday: Orrell St James v York Acorn RLC; Royal Navy v Thatto Heath.