A Noble effort by the Crusaders
I've been the butt of a few wind-ups in my time - in fact, it's quite a common occurrence. So when I emerged from the 5 live sports extra studio after three hours of athletics chat with decathlete Dean Macey on Sunday and received a text telling me champions Leeds Rhinos had lost 32-26 at home to Crusaders I wrote it off as inane banter. More fool me.
A few days later, I was chatting to Brian Noble, the coach who has transformed the Welsh side from Super League whipping boys to real play-off contenders.
"That win at Leeds was absolutely awesome," said Noble, whose side are now within touching distance of an historic top-eight berth - and with a game in hand. "We knew we had a chance, but to go to Headingley and do what we did was very special. It ranks right up there with some of the best results of my club coaching career."
You cannot underestimate what Noble has done for Crusaders. In the same way that the former Great Britain coach brought Wigan back from the brink during the darkest days of their history after his shock move to the Warriors in 2006, the man with the Super League Midas touch is now making waves in Wales.
Crusaders were only founded when Noble made that Wigan move four years ago. The bad news for Crusaders fans - and for Welsh rugby - is that I don't think Noble will stick around beyond the end of this season. More on that in a moment. First, how on earth did the Welshmen go to the home of the champions and turn them over?
"No one gave us a chance and we actually matched them punch for punch," asked Noble. "Our players need to realise what they can do if they have that belief and commitment. We can compete with anybody."
Has a lack of self-belief been a problem? Clearly the coach is a winner but have the players perhaps not believed they are fit to share a pitch with the likes of Wigan, St Helens, Warrington and Leeds?
"I'd agree to an extent," continued Noble. "That's where we came up short at the start of the year. We were a bit up ourselves and we kept getting beaten.
"That Leeds result is a sign of how far Welsh rugby has come. We only had three Welsh guys in the team at the weekend but there are four or five knocking on the door. We can't overexpose them but we have to give them a taste. As long as we can create a profile for Welsh rugby league alongside what we have with union then there's plenty of room for both."
Brian Noble classes Crusaders' win over Leeds Rhinos as one of the best of his career
The Rugby Football League will be breathing easier, too. An unsuccessful Super League baptism in 2009 triggered the predictable knockers of the controversial call to grant the Welsh club a licence ahead of the likes of Widnes and Leigh.
The sale of the club to Wrexham-based businessman Geoff Moss in December 2009 and the subsequent relocation to North Wales from Bridgend, along with the recruitment of Noble, coaches Iestyn Harris and Jon Sharp, seem to have nipped those early alarm bells in the bud.
Most importantly, the players are now enjoying not getting stuffed every week. "The boys are buzzing, it's the best they have ever had it here," Noble told me. "I can't shut them up at the moment, they're all getting a bit giddy. We need to get rid of the giddy kippers. You'll know that saying coming from Leeds, George!"
So if Noble can keep his team's feet on the ground, can they make history and reach the end of season play-offs?
"I'd like to think so, yeah," reflected Noble. "The problem is that when we raise our expectations we come unstuck. If we do the tough stuff right we go OK, so I'm working game by game just telling them to do x and do y.
"If we're in the play-off mix in five games' time, I'll be ringing you up saying 'you need to be talking about us on 5 live, we're going OK here!'. We know we are the only people who can create a bit of history and we've already erased the painful memories of last year. This is a new start."
I reckon I should probably expect that call.
"You take us lightly at your peril," added Noble. "We snuck up on people at the start of the season as we had a little more than people gave us credit for. Now teams think 'if we don't show up against this mob they'll get us'. Rugby league is an honest game and we've recognised now that if we compete we have a chance to win."
On the pitch, Noble continues to be buoyed by what he sees from 35-year-old union convert Gareth Thomas. Noble rang me when he first had Thomas at Crusaders training and was purring at his new recruit, telling me he would be a superstar. Does he still think so?
Thomas joined Crusaders in March on a 18-month deal
"Absolutely," answered Noble. "He has been massive for our club. What he has done in such a short space of time is a reflection of how good a union player he was. He is a leader of men and has very quickly become a dearly loved member of our team and I think he's been fabulous. He says he wishes he had come to league 10 years ago. I do, too."
Two key issues then to resolve with Noble. His own future and the potential threat to our great game posed by the vuvuzela craze sweeping through football's World Cup in South Africa. Harlequins this week became the first Super League side to ban the horns from their ground.
"I'll take the big question first," Noble joked. "We have to make sure the vuvuzela doesn't creep in to our game! If those horns blared throughout the game we would miss all the dour comments from the terraces, like 'forward!' and 'gerremonside!'. Our humour needs to come through."
On his own future, Noble is less committal. But just by speaking to him and through my understanding of the restraints he is working under in Wrexham, juxtaposed with his own sky-high ambitions for what he can do with the team, I sense a frustrated man.
I believe the Crusaders hierarchy will have to work hard to keep hold of Noble beyond this season. It is a time when so many Super League clubs are either searching for coaches or heading into the final year of a contract with their current one. "Wherever I am next year, I will bring a lot of talent and enthusiasm, I'm sure," Noble insisted.