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Visas expected for NRL stars
By Valkerie Mangnall - Daily Telegraph (NSW Metropolitan, 4 February 2009)

SUPER League newcomers Celtic Crusaders expect to have all eight Australian recruits who were awaiting UK visas available for their first match in Britain's top rugby league competition.

A spokesman for the Welsh club confirmed the players had arrived over the weekend ahead of Friday's match at champions Leeds Rhinos.

Former Raiders halfback and hooker Lincoln Withers, who was not affected by delays in processing visa applications at the British consulate in Canberra, will remain on the sidelines as he continues to recover from a knee surgery.

"Apart from that, we've got a full squad to pick from,'' the spokesman said.

Crusaders coach John Dixon admitted he had been worried he would have to field an under-strength team in their inaugural match. "We always had real faith in the system but it took a little longer than planned, and I was starting to get fidgety,'' Dixon said.

Crusaders football manager Anthony Seibold said there were no concerns over the fitness of the Australian players, who had been training with various clubs at home while they awaited immigration clearance.

"This is the best news that we could have ever had and now we can seriously concentrate on our first historic Super League season,'' Seibold said.

Those held up were former NRL players Josh Hannay, Darren Mapp and Ryan O'Hara, captain Jace Van Dijk, 2008 National League One player of the year Damien Quinn, Papua New Guinea international Jason Chan, Tony Duggan and Mark Dalle Cort.

Duggan, who has scored 98 tries in three seasons with the Crusaders in lower divisions, was keen to test his skills in the top flight.

"I want to show I can compete and be successful in a great competition,'' Duggan said. "Leeds at Headingley in our first Super League game is a dream come true.''

Leeds will start their title defence without Australian-born New Zealand international fullback Brent Webb, who is not yet in full training after undergoing back surgery, and Great Britain and England prop Ryan Bailey (knee).

New signings Danny Buderus and Greg Eastwood will also be missing. Australian Buderus is out for at least two rounds after biceps surgery, while New Zealander Eastwood is still in Brisbane awaiting the arrival of his British passport after leaving the Broncos.

Leeds ground staff were taking extra precautions in a bid to ensure the game goes ahead, placing frost sheets on the playing surface as severe winter weather swept across the UK.

The Crusaders, based in Bridgend in South Wales, won a licence from the Rugby Football League last year to join Super League from 2009-11. | End

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