By Ryan Gould at the Glyndwr University Racecourse Stadium
North Wales Crusaders produced a gutsy second half fightback as they secured their third victory in the Northern Rail Cup against Rochdale Hornets.
The Hornets were firmly in driving seat as they held a 16-12 lead at the break, but tries from Rob Massam and Simon Stephens and a stern defensive effort in the second half all but confirms Crusaders’ place in the Bowl Final, and their progression to the knock-out stages at the same time.
North Wales were awarded a penalty for a ball steal and, on the back of that, Johnson opened the scoring for the hosts after an offload from Andy Moulsdale.
But that was met by a swift response from the Hornets as they twice assaulted the Crusaders’ left edge defence, and on both occasions it paid off, with Lee Gaskell and Danny Davies both crossing for tries.
Crusaders were soon back on level terms, however, as, after another sloppy penalty given away by the visitors, Dave McConnell crashed over from close range.
The hosts looked to be in for their third just before half-time, but Middlehurst couldn’t collect Durbin’s pass and it was Rochdale who went over instead, as Gaskell collected and raced 90 metres upfield to give his side the advantage at the interval.
Defence has been the key for Clive Griffiths’ men so far in the Northern Rail Cup, and that proved to be important once again in the second period of this game. The away side couldn’t find a way through, but that wasn’t the case for Crusaders.
Rob Massam put North Wales in the lead for the second time as he touched down in the corner after Jamie Durbin had floated out a pass to the wing.
And Crusaders built on their regained lead as Massam crossed over for his second, with Durbin once again the supplier after Jono Smith fainted and passed left, and Simon Stephens bulldozed his way over late on.
Massam would have been the first ever play to record a hat-trick of tries for the club, but his effort in the final seconds was ruled out as he was in-touch, while Rochdale’s misery was only increased with the dismissal of Gaz Langley for punching.
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS
Tries: Johnson 5, McConnell 20, Massam 51, 68, Stephens 71
Goals: Johnson 5/5
Tries: Gaskell 8, 36, Davies 16
Goals: Crook 2/3
Referee: Peter Brooke
MOTM: Dave McConnell – he drove the side forward from hooker, and his try in the first half was just reward for a strong performance.