Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Sunday's Coming: SW Scorpions

Say 'Cheese': Caerphilly's giant cheese monument.
Having learned pretty much all of my Welsh from Llandudno road-signs when I was a child, this Sunday there’s a big croeso i Spotland for ‘newydd’ Sgorpionau De Cymru.

Having previously played out of Neath, Maesteg and Mountain Ash, the rebooted Scorpions club will be based from  this season at Caerphilly's Virginia Park ground.

The word you see associated a lot with the club is ‘Opportunity’. Sitting as they do at the head of the South Wales development pyramid, Scorpions remain a vehicle for channeling the Valleys’ finest League prospects into our game.

The end of last season saw a new stage in the club’s evolution. Having been run by the Welsh RL after owner Phil Davies baled in 2014, the national governing body and and RFL approved the takeover by ex-solicitor Marc Lovering and former Scorpions, and Welsh academy team manager Neil Williams.

Lovering, a Cardiff University graduate in Business Administration, chair of community club Siddal and former RFL Club & Competition Manager added ‘principle shareholder’ to his League CV.

At the time of the takeover he said:  “This bodes well for the future but clearly adding some more quality and experience to compliment what is a young squad will be our immediate focus. Neil and I remain committed to giving quality locally based players an opportunity.”

Whales: in Wales, earlier today
Indeed, if you look at the Scorpions 2016 squad, it reads like a roadmap of the principality with players taken from Aberavon Wizards, Valley Cougars, Torfaen Tigers,  Bridgend Ravens RFC,  Merthyr RFC, Aber Valley Wolves, Conwy Celts, Cardiff City, Pontypool RFC, Risca RFC, Glynneath RFC, Newport Gwent Dragons, Rhydyfelin RFC,  South Wales Hornets, Rumney RFC, Bridgend Blue Bulls and Celtic/North Wales Crusaders.

Lovering & Williams’ first job was to appoint a coach who has Welsh RL in his veins - former Scorpions prop and Wales international Phil Carleton. He was hounoured at the opportunity: “I am obviously very honoured and feel it is a great privilege to be considered for such a role. My thanks go to Marc and Neil for the opportunity.” That word again…

Originally from Consett in the North East of England - argue amongst yourselves whether that makes him a Geordie or a Mackem -  Carleton moved to Wales to attend university in Cardiff, where he began playing League. He also also turned out for then Welsh Conference sides Rumney Rhinos and identity-conflicted Celtic RL hybrids Aberavon Fighting Irish. He played for Wales Students in the 2005 World Cup in Australia, and was also capped for Great Britain Students.

Having toyed with the ‘local game’ at Llanelli Scarlets, Carleton signed for Valley Cougars in 2011 and was the first player to "graduate" from their link-up with South Wales Scorpions. In 2014 he won a full Welsh international cap.

Phil Carleton: is now a bad time?
In amonst his Welsh experience, Carleton also returned to England’s top right-hand corner for a while - playing for Gateshead Thunder and cutting his coaching teeth at Sunderland RUFC.

His return to Wales saw him take up the reins at the emerging Cardiff City RL club. He says: “It was hard to leave Cardiff City RL as they have been very good to me but the role of head coach at a semi-professional club was too good to turn down.”

In addition to South Wales’ emerging talent, Carleton has augmented his squad of late with a clutch of dual registration players from Halifax - Jamie Stringer, Cian Timmins and Martyn Reilly - who should bring a bit of ‘street nous’ to a side that went down 44-4 last week against a Barrow side that had previously piled 50 points on York. Proof if any were needed that the expansion teams won’t just roll-over for the heartland clubs. Interestingly, Scorpions’ only win so far this season came against Oxford in their last game at Iffley Road,  a decent benchmark for what we might expect.

Scorpions: ... er... you sure this is right?
Hornets come back to Spotland off the back of an imperfect, but ultimately convincing win at Oxford. Roared home by a noisy following, the fans were the 18th man on the day and another top performance on and off the field will be required if we are to fend off the Scorpions challenge. It’s funny how being top of the league gets under people’s skins. Teams raise their game and make life hard for you, and expectations are lifted to the point where even convincing wins are scrutinised for signs of complacency or underachievement. If, back in February, someone had offered us 8 games unbeaten - regardless of the circumstanes - I think most Hornets fans would have ripped their arm off.

So let’s all stay grounded and focused. Let’s get through Sunday with the points and kick on from there.