Written by John Davidson
Some may call it the toughest job in rugby league, coaching West Wales Raiders.
The League 1 club has won just one game in the past three years. Since 2016 they have won a total of three matches out of 75. Huge beatings were common place. It is a dismal record.
But finally there are some signs of positivity in Llanelli.
The Raiders, formerly known as the South Wales Scorpions, have a new coach in Aaron Wood.
The Australian, who has coached in the lower grades with Parramatta and St George Illawarra, and in France with Toulouse Olympique’s academy, arrived at the end of 2019 to replace Kim Williams.
They have also made two high-profile signings in former Welsh rugby union international Gavin Henson and ex-Man of Steel Rangi Chase, who will link up in the halves.
West Wales did not play a game in 2020 because of Covid-19, but Wood is confident better times are on the way for the third division club.
The Raiders have now have 29 players in their squad for the new season and with more to come in.
“It’s a good atmosphere, a good vibe. All the boys are pumped to be back,” he told the Forty20 LIVE podcast.
“The improvement is the biggest thing I want to see from the players. Everyone wants to win, so hopefully we can win some games – that’s why everyone plays. But just the development of players.
“I think the boys have always have had the ability, they just haven’t probably been able to recruit in key positions.
“In any squad, in any game at any level, halfback is the most important position you need. So that was one of my first things when I arrived, I wanted a halfback and what better than an ex-Man of Steel in Rangi Chase.
“He demands excellence from players. He’s leader. We’ve got two leaders in Gav and Rangi, and up front we’ve got Morgan Evans who’s been around a while.
“He’s fit, strong, a workhouse. Joe Burke’s come on board…. It’s exciting times.”
Twelve new players have joined West Wales for the new campaign, with only four departures.
There is a strong Welsh contingent and also some Fijian flair in wingers Kefeti Vakalalabure and Eparama Francis Boginisoko, along with Uraia Naulusala, all signing from the British army.
“The recruitment’s not finished for this year, but we’re obviously building for next year at the same time,” Wood said.
“It’s exciting, it’s a challenge. If you don’t want a challenge you shouldn’t be coaching or playing.
“I’m a young coach and I’m still learning, so it’s a good place to learn.”
Wood is unsure what his team can achieve this year, but is dreaming big.
“It’s a tough question, in any league you need a bit of luck. No injuries,” he said.
“There’s no pressure on us at all. I think the boys if we can finish in the top six, and get a bit of a playoff opportunity, you never know. Once you’re in the opportunity anything can happen. It’s a high-pressure situation.
“But League 1 is a tough competition this year, there’s a lot of good players. If we can win a few games, progress and be competitive – that’s our main thing.
“If we can get to the top six and go from there, that would be crazy. I’d love it.”