With the new Betfred League 1 season upon us, the preparation and build up is over and all that remains is putting all the gruelling pre-season work into practice on the field.
One club that certainly can’t wait to get things under way for 2019 is West Wales Raiders, led by new Australian coach Kim Williams into what they hope will be a massively improved year for the Llanelli based outfit.
With their struggles on the field last season well documented, Williams has just finished overseeing his first pre-season with his new club and has been delighted with how his squad have responded to the challenges of 2018.
A number of new players have come through the doors alongside Williams, who has worked hard to rejuvenate the culture and quality at the club in order to make huge strides both on and off the field.
Looking ahead to the Raiders season opener on the road at Coventry Bears, Williams was confident his squad were ready for their first hit out after discovering a new found confidence from all the good work done in pre-season.
“The pre-season has been as good as it could be. We’ve continued with really good numbers and the commitment of the players has been excellent,” he said.
“I don’t think we could have prepared much better; maybe one more trial game would have been perfect, but we were very happy to have the Wigan hit out. We learned a lot from that, and I learned a lot about individual players, it gave us a very good gauge of where we’re at.
“We’ve had two weeks since then to sort some of the things that we identified from that game and we’ve come along nicely so there will be no excuses this Sunday, we’ll be ready to go.”
Having previously spoken about the importance of maintaining the core nucleus of young talented Welsh players in is squad, Williams also highlighted the benefits of adding a few more experienced faces into the playing group, to help the younger players develop.
The Raiders have therefore been busy in the off-season and have added a number of overseas players to add quality and depth as well as help embed the standards expected at a professional club, and the Raiders boss had nothing but praise for their impact on the squad.
“The imports have been excellent for us, they have all brought a level of professionalism that perhaps wasn’t in the club previously. As a coach you want to set those standards but it’s usually the senior players that really drive those standards so I’m pretty happy with that,” he explained.
Despite some players still awaiting paperwork to take to the field in Raiders colours, Williams was extremely satisfied with the quality of his squad and was pleased to give opportunities for some of the younger players to stake their claim for a jersey in the early rounds.
“We have a couple of those guys who are unavailable this week, we’re still awaiting a couple of visas and passports which is disappointing because we’re not at full strength, but those guys have contributed well at training,” he said.
“We’ve got a little bit of depth in the squad this year that we didn’t have last year; some guys will get their chance first up this week and if they go well it’s up to the other guys to challenge for the top 17.
“We’ve created competition for all spots and that was a goal of mine when I got here, and I think we’ve been pretty successful with that in terms of recruitment and retention of some of the guys who were here last year as well.
“The pleasing thing is that some of the guys who were here last year will be getting a start in round one and I’ve seen a significant improvement from those players in pre-season. To me, those guys who were perhaps thrown in the deep end last year are now certainly ready to compete well at this level, which is pretty exciting.”
With no wins at all last season, the obvious short-term goal for West Wales is to be more competitive in 2019 and notch up some results. After seeing the developments of his players in pre-season, Williams was confident his side were now in a position to start delivering that on the field.
“The feeling within the group is one of confidence in what we’ve done in the pre-season. Preparation leads to confidence so the players are feeling good about themselves and there’s certainly now a feeling within the group that we can be successful and the measure of success for us is to be competitive week in week out,” he said.
“I’m not making any bold statements, but I’ve seen enough from the players to think we’ll be competitive from round one and we’ll learn a lot more through these first few rounds, we’ve definitely taken some big steps forward as a club.”
Coventry Bears are the first competitive opponent for Williams’ Raiders; a club who have been doing a lot of things right in their pre-season, with a hugely competitive showing against Leeds Rhinos under their belts.
The former Central Queensland Capras coach expected a tough first outing but at the same time had faith in his players to put in a good showing.
“I expect Coventry to be solid right across the park and they’ll be tough to beat at home. We have had a look at their pre-season games and have a good idea of what we are up against so it will be a matter of sticking to our game plan on the day, I expect us to perform well,” he said.
With the measure of West Wales short term success about to unfold in the coming weeks, one thing the new coach has been keen to implement is the framework and pathways for youngsters in Wales to get involved in the sport of rugby league.
Williams has been hands on at getting the Raiders heavily involved in the Welsh sporting community and provided an update on what steps had been taken to help establish the 13 man game at grass roots level across the region.
“We are continuing to grow our involvement within the school system in Wales. I have been involved in coaching and refereeing some high school games in the Champions Schools competition and we have presented a proposal to begin a schools-based programme in Bridgend and Llanelli,” he explained.
“These are small steps so far, but the feedback has been promising so far.”
Interview: Tom Alderson