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Rugby league: Gareth Thomas enjoys tough Crusaders debut

UNION legend Gareth Thomas endured a baptism of fire on his league debut for Crusaders on Friday night.

The 35-year-old was making his first start for the Wrexham-based Super League side after his sensational code switch.

Crusaders saw off the challenge of French visitors Catalans Dragons to win 14-6 in front of a rain-soaked 6,124 Racecourse crowd. Former Wales and British and Irish Lions union captain Thomas lasted just half an hour, though, after a heavy tackle left him with concussion.

But the man known as ‘Alfie’ was far from deterred by the experience – and is champing at the bit to truly get cracking in the 13-man game.

“This could have been my first game or my 100th and what happened would have happened,” said Thomas, who started out on the right wing but ventured infield on several occasions in search of possession.

“It is a contact sport and it could have happened at any time. But I'm glad this is out of the way.

“Now it has gone behind me I can carry on enjoying what is, I think, really and truly a great game.”

Jason Chan and Peter Lupton tries and the goal kicking of Michael Witt ensured a third victory of the season for Crusaders, whose head coach Brian Noble was impressed by Thomas but admitted the new boy has a lot to learn.

Noble said: “We are going to have to teach him a few of the nuances of how to protect the ball in the tackle.

“He wants to carry the ball a lot but he needs to learn how to do that and when to do that.

“But for his first 30-35 minutes he’s done fabulously well given he’s never played any rugby league.”

Crusaders, who head to Castleford Tigers tomorrow (8pm), have also been linked with moves for other Welsh rugby union stars, namely Andy Powell and Gavin Henson.

Noble said: “Some of the players in Welsh rugby union would make terrific rugby league players for sure. Watch this space is all I can help you with.”