Comment: Let’s get behind Cornwall’s bid to embrace rugby league

Saturday is a hugely significant day for Cornish sport, writes Matt Friday.

It is potentially so significant that it may well be a day we look back on in years to come as a waymarker in the evolution of our county’s sporting, even cultural, identity.

It might then appear strange to add that Saturday’s significant event is taking place in Colwyn Bay, Wales – some 329 miles from the Tamar Bridge.

That is where you will find the home of North Wales Crusaders, who play host to Cornwall RLFC in what will be the newly-formed professional rugby league team’s first-ever match.

Our county has a long love affair with rugby union – the ‘other’ code – having won the prestigious County Championship six times. We’re still the holders, in fact, having won the most recent tournament in 2019.

We have a team in the second tier of the English rugby union pyramid, and another on the cusp of the third tier. We’ve had Cornishmen representing England – we had two in last month’s Six Nations Championship alone.

In contrast, you can write a detailed history of Cornwall’s rugby league heritage on the back of a postage stamp.

But that all changes on Saturday.

Formed at the end of last year after Canadian owner Eric Perez opted to relocate his Ottawa Aces team to the United Kingdom, Cornwall RLFC quickly became the Duchy’s newest professional sporting entity virtually overnight.

Joining the Cornish Pirates rugby union team and the Saint Piran cycling team in becoming a Cornish professional sporting outfit, Cornwall RLFC, or the Choughs, were swiftly accepted into RFL League 1 – the third tier of English rugby league – for the 2022 season, and will play their home games at Penryn RFC’s Memorial Ground.

Cornwall has always tended to have a reputation as a bit of an insular region – happy to stick to our traditional customs and wary of anything new and unfamiliar.

We don’t like it when those emmets clog up ‘our’ A30 in the summer holidays and attract those pesky seagulls by waving their pasties and ice creams around (the trick, incidentally, is to look them in the eye and they’ll soon fly away).

Given rugby league’s own reputation as an insular sport unwilling to widen its horizons far beyond the north west of England, it doesn’t really seem like the two are a match made in heaven.

On the contrary. What better way for Cornwall to throw open its welcoming arms than to roll out the red carpet for a sport previously unheard of in these parts? And where better a place for rugby league to show its desire to widen its horizons across the UK than the furthest county away from the north west?

I’m sure that last sentence isn’t lost on Cornwall RLFC’s ten northern-based opponents, who will have to spend slightly more time on the coach than they are used to.

Always the tourist destination, but on Saturday, Cornwall are the tourists, trying to break new ground in a far-flung corner of the UK.

The squad won’t be heading to north Wales intent on a spot of sightseeing, however. The team will be playing to win, and with one-time Super League Coach of the Year, Neil Kelly, at the helm, you would expect nothing else.

Kelly and his coaching staff have had the unenviable task of building an entire squad from scratch over the last couple of months.

The piece-by-piece creation of virtually the entire club since their formation at the start of November may serve to temper any expectations of a swashbuckling stroll to the League 1 title. Indeed, it may be better to expect less and enjoy the high moments when they do come our way.

Whatever happens on the pitch on Saturday, it will always go down as the day that Cornwall announced itself to a whole new world, and that in itself is to be celebrated and applauded.

The game in north Wales is being live streamed so make sure you tune in. You’ll be witnessing Cornish sporting history – and you may well be watching the start of something rather special.

[Featured image: Patrick Tod / Cornwall RLFC]

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