NORTH WALES CRUSADERS picked up their third piece of silverware in less than four years of existence as they kicked off the Summer Bash with a bang to clinch the iPro Sport Cup.
Effectively, Crusaders have retained the Northern Rail Bowl, which they won back in 2013 and was also an all League 1 competition, though the iPro Sport Cup is a completely new competition with a slightly different format.
If anybody had any doubts whether the final should feature on the schedule for the Summer Bash, they were proved wrong as Crusaders and Swinton served up a treat; Sky Sports may be wondering whether they should have broadcasted the full game now.
As has been the case a couple of times this season, the Wrexham side didn’t get going in the first-half and had to come up with a much-improved showing after the break in order to produce the goods.
When Crusaders boss Anthony Murray was quizzed about what his half-time team talk entailed after the game, his answer was a simple and effective one: “complete our sets, finish in a good area of the field and see how much pressure we can put on”.
And that’s exactly what Murray’s men did; in the end, it was smart game management that had a major role to play in Crusaders taking the trophy home.
Inevitably, nerves start to creep in when you’re playing in finals and that seemed to be the case with Crusaders for much of the first-half.
Swinton had the majority of the possession in the early stages and were continually testing Crusaders’ line, but their opening try of the game could easily have been prevented.
Richie Hawkyard put in a hopeful grubber kick on the last and, as the ball looked to be rolling dead, Tommy Johnson left it, but it took a wicked bounce and Shaun Robinson somehow managed to ground in the corner.
Penalties weren’t helping Crusaders and, at times, they struggled to get out of their own half. Chris Atkin slotted over an extra two points after the Welsh side were penalised.
But that seemed to spark Crusaders into life as they began to press, and look threatening, for the first time in the game, as they searched for a way back.
They thought they were over for a four-pointer when Lee Hudson tracked his own kick, which the Swinton defence fumbled, but the referee ruled that a Lions man had grounded the ball dead and awarded a drop-out.
Crusaders were in soon after, however, as Scott Turner, on his return from a shoulder injury, took advantage of great hands from Tommy Johnson and Alex Thompson to finish well in the right corner.
Following the restart, Crusaders immediately started to dictate the flow of the game and took control.
However, they were finding it hard to get over the whitewash and were held-up on a number of occasions.
Tommy Johnson opted to take the two when Crusaders were awarded a penalty and was successful to level the scores, before another attempt at goal was unsuccessful as it flew wide of the posts.
Dallimore was then held-up as he darted for the line, but the Lions defence couldn’t keep him out a couple of minutes later.
Crusaders pushed the ball out to the left and, with men on the flank, he opted to run the ball himself and had the power to force his way over the line.
To try and secure the game for good and put a seven-point margin between themselves and Swinton, Crusaders went for a drop-goal on a couple of their sets. They weren’t successful at any point, though, and one shot at goal nearly lost them the lead.
When Karl Ashall attempted the drop-goal, the ball was charged and the Lions broke 70 metres downfield. They had a rush of blood on the first play of the set, however, and knocked the ball on at the play-the-ball.
Swinton threw everything at Crusaders in the final minutes, but the Wrexham outfit held on for another valuable win and a day that will live long in the memory.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS
1 Tommy Johnson
2 Scott Turner
22 Alex Thompson
4 Matt Reid
5 Rob Massam
14 Karl Ashall
7 Jamie Dallimore
8 Jonny Walker
9 Callum Wright
15 Joe Burke
11 Jono Smith
12 Stephen Wild
13 Gary Middlehurst
15 Lee Hudson
23 Mark Hobson
10 Ryan Duffy
20 Elliot Davies
Tries: Turner (32), Dallimore (66)
Goals: Johnson (3/5)
7 Chris Atkin
2 Shaun Robinson
3 Stuart Littler
22 Chris Rothwell
1 Ritchie Hawkyard
6 Ben White
18 Aaron Lloyd
24 Jordan James
9 Andy Ackers
10 Ben Austin
30 Josh Barlow
23 Connor Dwyer
31 Rob Lever
8 Mike Morrison
12 Darren Hawkyard
17 Matt Gardner
28 Mick Govin
Tries: Robinson (11)
Goals: Atkin (2/2)
Referee: Mike Woodhead
MOTM: Gary Middlehurst – as always, his work rate was exceptional and he gave Crusaders a lot of impetus with his runs going forward.
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