NORTH Wales Crusaders are the first team to have their name on the Northern Rail Bowl as they beat London Skolars 42-24 at the Shay Stadium, Halifax.
The pressure was firmly on Crusaders as favourites ahead of the game, and although the physical Skolars made life very difficult for the Wrexham-based side, they showed just why they were given that tag with a dominant final 20 minutes which ultimately sealed the silverware.
Crusaders opened the scoring when, after Andy Moulsdale had come within inches of the line, Tommy Johnson was sent through a gap in the Skolars defence by Dave McConnell.
The Londoners replied soon after, though, as Mike Worrincy flung out a looping pass to Erjon Dollapi to cross next to the posts.
But a gamble from Christiaan Roets, touching down an Andy Moulsdale grubber kick which Skolars thought was rolling dead, put Crusaders back in the ascendancy.
North Wales threw on the talismanic Jono Smith and the loose forward had an immediate impact in Crusaders’ third score; the forward hitting the line at speed and popping the ball out to Moulsdale to touch down.
However, two tries in as many minutes brought the Londoners back into the game as the sides left for the break at 16-16.
Dylan Skee sent Louis Robinson crashing over next to the posts, although confirmation was required from the video referee, before a swift move down the left flank saw Ade Adebisi ground in the corner.
With the tie on a knife edge, Skee elected to kick for goal after Crusaders were penalised for dissent – and the scrum-half was successful as Skolars went two points ahead.
That decision to take the two rather than run the ball may have been Skolars’ downfall, with Gary Middlehurst bouncing off several would-be tacklers to touch down just minutes later.
And with that try, as well as London having a try attempt chalked off when Olly Purslow was held up in-goal, Crusaders had momentum on their side.
McConnell scooted over from acting half for Crusaders’ fifth, before Rob Massam continued his impressive scoring tally for the season as he touched down in the corner.
McConnell went over for his second after a Stephen Bannister break, and although Skolars hit back temporarily through Sam Wellings, Jono Smith sent Dan Birkett over on the hooter to put the finishing touches on a remarkable victory for Crusaders.
LONDON SKOLARS: James Anthony, John Paxton, Alex Hurst, Joe Price, Ade Adebisi, Andy McLean, Dylan Skee, Erjon Dollapi, Michael Bishay, David Williams, Mike Worrincy, Sam Wellings, Olly Purslow. REPS: Martyn Smith, Rob Thomas, Louis Robinson, Jamaine Wray.
Tries: Dollapi, Robinson, Worrincy, Wellings
Goals: Skee (4/5)
NORTH WALES CRUSADERS: Tommy Johnson, Dan Birkett, Stuart Reardon, Christiaan Roets, Rob Massam, Andy Moulsdale, Jamie Dallimore, Simon Stephens, Dave McConnell, Jonny Walker, Steve Bannister, Gary Middlehurst, Andy Gorski. REPS: Jono Smith, Lee Hudson, Ryan MacDonald, Owain Brown.
Tries: Johnson, Roets, Moulsdale, Middlehurst, McConnell (2), Massam, Birkett
Goals: Johnson (5/8)
REFEREE: Joe Cobb