West Wales Raiders – What sort of impact can a win have?

The importance of getting results in sport is paramount. The success of professional competitive sports teams and individuals ultimately rely on results and the difference between winning and losing can be so small but have huge ramifications on confidence, belief and even the stability of people’s positions as a professional athlete or within a sporting organisation.

However, for West Wales Raiders, the long-suffering side at the bottom of League 1, the value of a win means so much more.

Having not tasted victory since their emergence at the start of the 2018 season, 44 consecutive defeats were suddenly cast to one side on Saturday 20th July when the Llanelli based club hammered Coventry Bears 44-16 to record their first win in the club’s history.

The result does very little to aid the Raiders’ position in the table, but for head coach Kim Williams and the players their first competition points of the season are invaluable to the club and could be a major turning point in the fortunes of rugby league in the heartland of Wales.

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Williams took a huge gamble leaving his family and friends behind in Australia in the off-season to take on the almighty challenge of turning this seemingly doomed club around, but the maiden victory has made it all worth it.

“It was a great moment in the history of the club and one that will be remembered for a while, but the most pleasing thing was just seeing the reaction of the players, the staff and the supporters,” Williams said.

“We had a lot of sponsors there on the day against Coventry so it was nice to do it in front of all of those people and it was genuine joy on a lot of people’s faces so it certainly made the tough times feel like it was all worth it and there is definitely some light at the end of the tunnel and a big source of motivation for us.”

Most clubs would find their position at the bottom of the table as a reason for panic and a need for change, but for the Raiders players, the rewards for winning, in the context of how much the club has been playing catch up to everyone else, just needed to be celebrated to the full and this was something Williams was keen to encourage.

“The main focus after the match was to give credit to all the players and I really wanted them to soak it all up,” he explained.

“I guess there were two paths I could have taken; to down play it and focus on the next game, but that win has been so long coming I felt it needed to be celebrated by all involved and we needed to make a bit of a deal of it.

“The boys certainly celebrated as it was a bit of a turning point for us and the beer tasted better than it had all year and I even had a few myself.

“We had a week off the week following it which was great. It allowed us to savour the moment that little bit longer but it was back into training soon after,” he added.

So, what benefits has a comprehensive win after such a long time done for West Wales? The answer is that is has transformed the club in terms of confidence and belief and, for an experienced coach like Kim Williams, it has given him the assurance to keep improving the culture now in place at the Raiders to try and build some momentum moving into next year.

“For me as a coach I was pretty much straight back into focusing on the final few games and we can access footage of all the games through the RFL which is useful for us, so I was back into it the following Monday,” he admitted.

“We had a very light week of training but once we got back into it you could feel the positive energy around the place.

“We’d had plenty of energy and numbers at training but to actually get the result has noticeably changed things around the club and we certainly feel like the confidence has increased two or threefold.

“We’ve got a few fixture left this season but our big focus, which has been the same all year, has not necessarily been based on results but on performance and making sure we improve significantly on last season and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

The former Central Queensland Capras boss is no stranger to building rugby league beyond heart land areas, having worked at the now formidable Melbourne Storm in the NRL.

However, by his own admission, moving to a club at the very lowest ebb of the British game has been the most brutal challenge of his coaching journey to date, for many reasons, but, with the Raiders finally getting a taste of on field success, Williams can definitely see light at the end of the tunnel.

“This has definitely been the biggest challenge I’ve taken on in my career without a doubt. We needed a complete culture shift here and that sort of thing takes time and it quite often means people need to be moved on and we had to change how we go about everything so that has been the biggest challenge for me,” he explained.

“There’s no doubt we’ve taken some massive steps forward; we’re still getting almost 30 players at training every week.

“We went through a big of a lull mid-season when we lost a few players and a few other players jumped on the back of that and we copped some heavy defeats as a result, but that needed to happen as we didn’t want people at the club who weren’t willing to persevere and stick together.

“When people don’t want to be here, I’m more than happy to let them go quickly and we endured some short-term pain but we’re starting to see the fruits of that and there will be some long-term gain.

“We’re building a club with good values and with a strong work ethic and I really want us to be a club that looks after their players better than anywhere else because we want players to come to this club and overall the last few weeks have made it well worth the effort so far and the plan we have in place is starting to work and is only going to get better,” he added.

With a World Cup on the horizon in 2021, the success of the West Wales Raiders and neighbouring North Wales Crusaders is not only important for the strength of League 1, but also for the development of rugby league in Wales in general.

For Williams, one of the main focuses away from the Raiders has been to build pathways for juniors through to the professional level of the sport, in order to make the Welsh national side more competitive in the long term.

There have been giant steps made in this area as well, with four West Wales players recently named in John Kear’s elite train on squad and a handful of young Raiders players discovered through the Welsh student pathways.

“We’ve got links to the Wales student system and we had five or six players in the Welsh student squad for the last Four Nations tournament only a month or two ago and our links to college systems are going great,” Williams said.

“We’ve also just brought in a couple of players from the army and they’ve added a lot to our squad, they’ve been outstanding.

“We’re working as much as we can with the Welsh rugby league with the 16s, 17s and 18s and how we link all that together to feed into the Raiders and the future. We’ve got some very good young players out there who just need exposure to more high-quality programs and I’m sure that’ll start to bare its fruit over the next few years.”

Author: Tom Alderson

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