History

The Wizards were formed in 1998 by a group of Rugby League enthusiasts interested in bringing Rugby League back to Wolverhampton, following the demise of the Wolverhampton Borough team that had played in MASWARLA (Midlands and South West Amateur Rugby League Association) in the late 80s and early 90s. The team slowly started to take shape under the management of Chairman John Wainwright, Secretary Duncan Merrill and Coach Mike Rowan and were entered into the Rugby League Conference, a new Rugby League initiative from the RLC designed to encourage development in areas outside the “Heartlands”. 

1999 – The team was entered into the Western Conference for the 1999 season, alongside the likes of Birmingham and Leicester, as well as playing four cross-conference fixtures against Northern Conference sides Manchester and Chester (Home and Away). All Home matches were to be played at Castlecroft, home of Wolverhampton RFU. Wolverhampton Wizards officially kicked off their first game, in front of the Sky cameras (who were recording for Rugby League World on Sky Sports), against Manchester Knights on 5th May 1999. Unfortunately, results immediately went the wrong way with two 90+ points defeats against Manchester and Birmingham, as well as the traumatic departure of Mike Rowan before the game against Worcestershire Saints. Despite this setback, the team continued playing games and, despite a number of heavy defeats (including a 106-0 defeat against Champions-elect Chester Wolves in a match played at Super League Warrington’s ground Wilderspool), started to show promise and the possibility of the clubs first win came when Worcestershire travelled to Castlecroft. Sadly, despite taking the lead three times, Wizards ran out of steam and succumbed to two late tries and a 13-24 defeat. The season ended on a low note, a 98-4 defeat at Saffron Lane against Leicester Phoenix signalled the end of a difficult first season. However, the fact that all 12 games had been played and completed showed a team still finding its feet, but capable of going on and achieving much. 

2000 started with a new coach taking over at the club. Paul Yuen, who had taken over as Caretaker following Mike Rowans departure, took over as Coach and instigated a full pre-season in January 2000 to prepare the much changed side for a daunting season. Alongside this, former Wizard Alan Caron had set up a side at Wolverhampton College which, despite not getting the chance to play many League games, gave a number of players the chance to play Rugby League for the first time and allowed them to join the Wizards for pre-season friendlies against Worcestershire and Crewe. The Wizards were entered in the Western Division once again, this time taking on the challenge of Conference new-boys Coventry Bears and Rotherham Giants (this as two Cross-Conference games with the Northern division) and kicked off the new season with a home game against Birmingham Bulldogs Sadly, Wizards were overpowered by a rampant Bulldogs effort and, despite a debut try from John Hurst (who had joined from Worcestershire Saints) slipped to an 86-4 defeat, which signalled the start of a difficult season for Wolverhampton Wizards. The promise of the previous season was starting to fade as heavy defeat followed heavy defeat, Coventry and Rotherham in particular taking full advantage of a Wizards defence that just couldn’t take the constant pounding. The luck that the Wizards were having was summed up away to Worcestershire Saints when several members of the team arrived ready to play at Worcester Rugby Club, not realising that the team were actually 10 miles down the road at Droitwich Rugby Club! Despite the defeats and setbacks, Wizards did salvage something from the season by claiming their first ever win in the RLC.  On 8th July 2000, Wizards took the field against 11 man Leicester Phoenix (who had beaten Wizards 104-0 earlier in the season) and, in a seesaw battle, won 32-20 to spark ecstatic celebrations from players and supporters. As one, the RLC community stood to congratulate the Wizards. Despite finishing the season with heavy defeats against Rotherham and Gloucestershire Warriors, the club did celebrate some post-season success after being invited to the Bedford 9s (Bedford having been one of the first teams to congratulate the Wizards after Leicester). Despite losing the opening game to St Ives, the club recorded a close win over Bedford A, before crushing Bedford B by 30 points to win the Round Robin and a final place against St Ives. Despite a close loss in the final, the club had done themselves proud and could start rebuilding for the 2001 season. 

2001 saw a transitional year for the Wizards as new players came in from all parts of the local area, from Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Union club to RAF Cosford to Emley Moor. It also saw a new coach in Lee Mannifield, who had previously played in Pennine League Rugby League with Emley Moor and brought with him coaching qualifications and plenty of experience. The club, now resplendent in new playing kit (sponsored by Scrum-half Jim Ridout’s company Ventilation Services) and playing in the Midlands Division, kicked off the new season, first, with a trip to play at the Salcombe 7s Rugby Union tournament (an event that Wizards regularly compete in), then completed a quick pre-season before taking on Worcestershire Saints (now in the South-West Division and playing as a cross conference fixture) in the first game of the season. Despite a close loss in that game, and a number of heavier defeats against Birmingham, Coventry and Newcastle (a fixture only memorable for the appearance of eight Sunderland University players in Wizards shirts due to lack of numbers travelling up), there were signs that the players who had come in were starting to click and a win was in sight. That win duly came as the club celebrated its first ever-away win at Worcestershire Saints. A comeback from eight points down to win 17-15 showed a new grit and resolve at the club, with a number of appearances in the local press backing up the clubs new found popularity. Although the club was not to win again that season, they were never outclassed and battled in every game.  As the season ended, several Wizards players helped out at the RLC Grand Final at Rugby Lions RFC with stewarding and promotion of the game. The day ended in triumph for Teesside Steelers, who beat Coventry Bears in a thrilling final, but also for Wizards Secretary Duncan Merrill who picked up a “RLC Clubman of the year” award for his dedication to the Wizards cause (he even got the club badge tattooed to his arm!) 

2002 proved a difficult year for Wizards. After a full pre-season which took in the now familiar friendly with Worcestershire Saints and another trip to Salcombe, the Wizards kicked off with the first of four games against Birmingham at the new surroundings of Four Ashes and, despite a spell leading the game, slipped to the first of many defeats that season. Despite the best efforts of the Wizards players, the luck was just not with them and they struggled throughout the year with injuries and, in some cases, sheer lack of numbers (the team arrived at Nottingham with just 8 players and had to borrow players to fulfil the fixture). Lee Mannifield had also left at the start of the season and the coach-less Wizards found the going hard, losing by more and more every week before taking the field in the last League game of the season against Leicester and suffering the biggest defeat in Wizards history of 108-5. It was a difficult day in the history of the club and saw a number of players questioning their playing futures. Fortunately, no one gave up and, following a morale-boosting trip to Blackpool to play the new Blackpool side and prepare for the RLC Shield (a new innovation for the season to make sure all sides had the chance to sample Playoff football). Wizards were in a group with Birmingham and Bedford and Cambridge from the Eastern Division (although, curiously, Wizards never had to play Bedford). Despite competing well with Birmingham and leading 3 times against Cambridge at Walsall RFC (Four Ashes had become unavailable towards the end of the regular season), Wizards slumped to four more defeats and, despite playing the clubs 50th RLC game at Cambridge, finished the season without a win. Despite a poor season, hopes were high for a better 2003.

2003 Following the traumatic 2002 season, Wizards regrouped to a new location of Heathbrook, home of Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Union club. This move, plus a number of new arrivals from Stourbridge and Halesowen Rugby Union clubs, gave new hope of a much-improved year for the club. The season started early with an entry into the RLC Cup, a new competition designed to give clubs meaningful pre-season games.The Wizards were entered into a group with, once again, Worcestershire Saints and a new team from Wales in Aberavon Fighting Irish, who had just entered the RLC as part of the new Welsh division. Despite the drama of a 26-26 draw at home to Worcestershire, the competition for Wizards would be marred by events at Aberavon. At halfway through the second half, and with Aberavon comfortably ahead, the referee abandoned the game after a full-scale pitch brawl broke out.Neither club was punished by the RFL, but the result was awarded to Aberavon and left Wizards with a battle to qualify. Hopes eventually faded with a defeat at Worcestershire and that was that for the RLC Cup. However, following Salcombe, Wizards played their most prestigious game to date when they took on Paris University at Heathbrook in an international friendly. A tense and exciting game was settled by a Russell Ashley try with a few minutes remaining after Paris had comeback from 10 points down. Wizards celebrated an historic 26-20 win, which proved a great booster for the new season. The Wizards were placed in the South Midlands division with new boys Telford Raiders, as well as Coventry Bears “A” (following Coventry’s win of the Harry Jepson trophy, they had decided to move up to the new National League 3. They also decided to play an A team in the RLC), and Bedford Swifts. The season kicked off with a home game against Coventry and brought a dramatic contest settled by Mark Austin’s late try to win the game for Wizards. If this wasn’t enough, the club then celebrated its second win on the bounce with a 47-20 thumping of Bedford, although this was to be later annulled by the league following Bedford’s mid-season withdrawal from the league.  Results dipped slightly after Bedford with defeats against Telford, Birmingham and a revenge thumping at Coventry before another landmark win in Wizards history against Telford, where the club did not concede a try for the first time ever. Despite a heart-breaking late defeat at Leicester and a heavy defeat at Division winners Birmingham, the club finished third as the result of Leicester not travelling to Heathbrook, gifting Wizards the points and home games in the Shield. A wonderful season kept going after a hard fought 26-0 win over Worksop, a win which garnered another landmark (first RLC game without conceding a point), before eventually grounding to a halt on the hottest day of the year against Rotherham. The Giants were simply too much for a weakened Wizards side and won 66-13 to put an end to the Wizards season, although the Wizards did at least win the second half. After the best season in Wizards history, hopes were high for another good one in 2004. 

2004 Following the successes of 2003, Wizards regrouped and prepared themselves for a long season. A friendly win over Worcestershire gave hopes for a profitable year and, despite pulling out of the RLC Cup after defeats against Telford and Luton Vipers rendered the remaining two games meaningless, was focussed on more of the same, which would take place once again at Four Ashes, an area that would become the Wizards permanent home. With Captain Garry Morgan also coaching the side, a number of new recruits came in during the pre-season, including several players from Willenhall Rugby Union club and Pete Reynolds from Burntwood Rugby Union club, who would prove to be one of the best acquisitions the club had made. As the club moved into the Midlands division, new challenges lay ahead in the shape of Birmingham “A” (like Coventry, Birmingham had decided to move to National League 3 and had created an A team to play in the RLC), St Albans Centurions “A” (who were also in National League 3) and Rugby Raiders, who would provide the club with another memorable occasion. Another winning start was needed and duly came with a close fought 26-20 win over Birmingham, a result which brought much satisfaction after years of being in their near-neighbours shadow. The club repeated its trick of winning the opening two games of the season by winning 28-26 against Rugby Raiders in a game officiated by Super League referee Russell Smith at Rugby School and only settled by a last second missed conversion by Raiders that would have forced a draw. Despite losing the next couple of games to a rampant Leicester, a vengeful Birmingham and the first missed game in Wizards history (only 6 players were able to make it to St Albans, so the game was sadly postponed), the club was starting to resemble a more professional outfit. Notably, the club was the only team in the Midlands division to produce a match day programme and also had regular features on 107 The Wolf FM and in the local press, helping to establish the club as a player in Wolverhampton sport. Another two wins did emerge as Rugby Raiders failed to travel to Four Ashes and St Albans were overcome 38-28 in a battle for fourth place and home advantage in the Shield playoffs. Despite this, a home defeat by Coventry left Wizards fifth in the table, although with the same number of points and wins as the previous year. Thoughts moved onto the Shield and a home game against Rugby Raiders. Unfortunately, and for the second time that year, Rugby did not travel and left Wizards with a week off and an away trip to St Albans. Despite being undermanned because of a number of injures, the club travelled down to St Albans and almost pulled off the win, going down 38-28 despite a hat trick from Robert Leaupepe (better known to his friends as Peps). As the 2004 season ended, thoughts have turned to 2005 and what the Wizards can achieve. With a new coach in Stuart Bennett, the club has high hopes for the new season. Who knows what the club will achieve in the coming year?

2005 began early for Wizards as new Head Coach Stuart Bennett showed his keenness to improve general fitness at the club by instigating regular training sessions in February. New recruits Steve Timmins and former Oxford Cavaliers and West London Sharks forward Kevin Peacock, who ran regular circuit sessions, helped him in this as Wizards new and old prepared for the new RLC season. Following another successful trip to Salcombe (where Wizards celebrated their first ever win against Salcombe), Wizards prepared for the new season with competitive Friendlies against Nottingham Outlaws and Worksop Sharks which, despite two close defeats, gave Wizards coach Bennett plenty of positives as new players showed their potential and veteran Wizards like Russell Ashley and Matt Haughtey further proved their worth to the Wizards cause with exceptional performances. The West Midlands Division showed several changes from 2004 as Rugby Raiders pulled out after a stop-start debut season and St Albans Centurions moved into the Eastern Division. Replacing St Albans were Redditch Ravens who had risen from the ashes of Worcestershire Saints, who had folded at the end of 2004, and were ably led by RLC stalwart Jason Spafford. It was Redditch who provided Wizards with their opening RLC fixture on a sunny May afternoon at Four Ashes. History was on Wizards side, as they had won on the first day of the season in consecutive years, but nobody could have expected the result that came. From Alan Stoneley’s debut try after just 56 seconds to further debut tries from Craig Goodall and Steve Timmins, Wizards, under the captaincy of 2004 Player of the Year Pete Reynolds, produced a record win of 76-6 and numerous club records on a red letter day for the club. A poor performance led to a 48-20 loss away at Leicester Phoenix, but that proved to be the last regular season defeat for a Wizards side who, under the coaching of Stuart Bennett, started to show signs of what was to come with a big Derby win at Four Ashes against Birmingham Bulldogs (albeit with a season-ending injury to Rob Clifton) and a first ever away win at Coventry Bears. Wizards were starting to build momentum and, after an awarded win when Plymouth didn’t travel and a second win against Redditch Ravens in a game played at Four Ashes when Redditch’s ground was unavailable, took on Leicester in a top of the table clash at Four Ashes. In a classic encounter, inspired performances by Stuart Bennett, Graham and Lloyd Shelley and Tommy Huggins saw Wizards overcome a concerted attack by Leicester to triumph 26-12 in front of a sizable and appreciative crowd. Wizards also made the news a week later when, on the same day they beat a much stronger Birmingham side at Moor Green, Club Media Officer James Vukmirovic made his debut for the Serbia International team against France Federale in Cavallion on the south of France. Vukmirovic played 30 minutes as a replacement in a 76-16 defeat. Another landmark came against Coventry Bears at Four Ashes as Wolverhampton Wizards played their 100th senior game and celebrated with a parade of former players and former kits. Despite the winning run ending with a 34-34 draw, which many thought could have gone either way, the club could be proud of what had gone before and the future would hold. The Coventry game was the last regular season game that Wizards played as Plymouth did not travel again to Four Ashes, but their final position was not known until a week later as Leicester had to travel to Somerset to fulfil their final regular season game. On a tense day, Wizards recorded a scrappy friendly win over Redditch Ravens before setting down to find out the final score from the South West. Confusion turned to elation as news of Leicester’s defeat filtered through to leave Wizards as Minor Premiers by one point. This triumph left Wizards with a bye to the West Midlands Grand Final and a game against either Leicester or Birmingham.  The spare weekend was filled with a professional win against the RAF, which was followed by the news that Leicester had won and would travel to Four Ashes in a week. On a warm August afternoon in front of Wizards biggest crowd for many years, Wizards and Leicester clashed in what would be the last game at Four Ashes after the land was sold to a local Football team. It started explosively as Leicester Centre Keiron Collins was sent off after just five minutes for punching Lloyd Shelley.  Wizards took immediate advantage of the extra space to take a big lead. However, Leicester showed why they almost took the Minor Premiership by coming back at Wizards and levelling things up at 35-35 with extra time looming. One moment of brilliance changed that as Wizards Stand-off Robert Leaupepe landed his second drop goal of the day to push Wizards ahead.  Leicester tried to win the ball back but, following Karl Wesley’s red card for Violent Conduct, the final whistle blew to begin massive celebrations on and off the pitch as Wizards players and fans enjoyed the biggest achievement in Wizards history. After captain Pete Reynolds collected the Regional Championship Shield, the celebrations began and continued long into the night at main Wizards sponsors Walkabout. Unfortunately, the season ended on a sad note as the number of injuries collected from the brutal clash with Leicester caused Wizards to pull out of the RLC Cup Quarterfinal against Gloucestershire Warriors.The club were unhappy to have to pull out of the planned game, but had followed all possible routes to get a side together and did not wish to reduce the standard of the competition. Despite this setback, Wizards received a huge amount of support from people all over the game and were rewarded for the progress they had made over the year through a nomination for RLC Club of the Year which, despite losing out to South London Storm, ended the year on a high.  Midlands.                                                                                                                                           

James Vukmirovic – This club history is not the view of Wolverhampton Wizards Rugby League club and all thoughts should be directed to the author

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