Crusaders (4) 18
Tries: Blackwood, Dyer, James, Tangata-Toa. Goals: Lennon.
Reds (10) 36
Tries: White 2, Gardner, Fitzpatrick, Sibbit, Myler. Goals: Wilshire 6.
Salford City Reds needed extra time to see off Celtic Crusaders and win the League One Grand Final on Sunday.
Reds went ahead early when Paul White intercepted Josh Hannay’s pass and then Matt Gardner went over in the corner.
Crusaders fought back and with 13 minutes remaining led 18-16 when David Tangata-Toa went 55 metres to the line.
But with seconds left a John Wilshire penalty forced extra time, in which the Reds ran riot as Ian Sibbit, White and then Richard Myler crossed for tries.
The two sides will meet again next year in Super League, as both the Reds and Crusaders have been awarded three-year licences.
Salford opened the scoring after five minutes at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium, when White was alert to pick off a pass from Hannay and ran unchallenged to the line.
There was almost a second try five minutes later when Craig Stapleton, under pressure, tried to force his way over the line.
After going to the video referee the try was disallowed due to some excellent Crusaders defending that held Stapleton up.
Straight away, Crusaders thought they had scored as Luke Dyer picked up a trademark Jace Van Dijk kick and looked to have scored in the corner.
But the referee again went to Ashley Klein in the video box and the try was ruled out thanks to an obstruction offence.
Salford increased their lead on 27 minutes, as Matt Gardner went over in the corner after a passing move involving Robbie Paul, Richard Myler and Wilshire.
From the kick-off Salford wasted a chance to go further ahead, but Gardner dropped the ball as he stumbled to the line.
Crusaders hit back just before the half-time hooter after Welsh international Anthony Blackwood scored almost a replica of Salford’s previous try.
He was set up by Mark Dalle Cort following excellent work from Damien Quinn and Hannay.
After forcing a goal-line drop-out, Crusaders opened the second half scoring with a well-deserved and well-worked try.
Van Dijk was stopped short of the line but Crusaders were not to be denied.
From the next play Luke Dyer scored in the corner after fine build-up from Ian Webster, Neale Wyatt, Damien Quinn and Mark Lennon.
As cries of “Wales, Wales” rang out from the record Crusaders away following, from the restart Crusaders again worked a fine set of six that culminated in Welsh international Jordan James forcing his way under the posts.
Lennon kicked Crusaders’ first successful goal of the game to put the Welsh four points ahead.
Salford almost levelled things when Robbie Paul opened up a gap for Paul White to sprint through, only for Tony Duggan and Neil Budworth to make an excellent try-saving tackle.
But the Reds weren’t to be denied as they levelled things with 17 minutes remaining.
Jordan Turner set up Karl Fitzpatrick who happily ran through and Wilshire had an easy goal to put Salford back in front.
Crusaders went back into the lead four minutes later after Tangata-Toa intercepted a Stefan Ratchford pass and ran 55 metres to the line.
But crucially Lennon missed the kick and Crusaders were just two points up.
Salford laid siege to the Crusaders line but the defence held until the final seconds when Salford were awarded a penalty, after Darren Mapp was penalised for holding down Richard Myler.
Wilshire’s long-range kick was good and extra time was forced.
Salford drew first blood through Sibbit try, with White following him over for his second of the game soon after.
Wilshire converted both to put them 12-points up at the extra-time interval.
The Reds attempted to seal things in the second half of extra time by going for the drop-goal.
Jordan James blocked a Fitzpatrick attempt while Myler also had a go but his kick went wide.
But Salford wrapped things up in the final minute after a 50-metre Myler run which Wilshire converted to give the Reds a very flattering scoreline.
One consolation for the Crusaders was the performance of their Colts side, who overcame table-toppers Bramley Buffaloes 26-4 to take the Conference National title earlier in the afternoon in Warrington.
Crusaders coach John Dixon:
“That was a score-line that blew out at end. But credit to Salford for that. With 20 seconds to go, we’d won the game.
“However it’s been a fantastic season and we took away a lot of positives from today.
“We defended really well for long periods of time but Salford probably did little more with chances they had.
“It’s been a fantastic season but we’ll have to be stronger next year.
“We’ll probably be finalising our squad for Super League 2009 this week.”
Crusaders: Duggan, Dyer, Hannay, Dalle Cort, Blackwood, Quinn, Van Dijk, J. James, Budworth, Tangata-Toa, Beasley, Mapp, Martin.
Substitutes: Summers, Webster, Lennon, Wyatt.
Salford: Fitzpatrick, Gardner, Littler, Wilshere, White, Paul, R. Myler, Highton, Alker, Stapleton, Sibbit, Adamson, Turner.
Substitutes: Ratchford, Bannister, Jewitt, Leuluai.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).