On Saturday, North Wales Crusaders Wheelchair bid farewell to one of their most loyal and passionate players, the Wales captain Stuart Williams, as he departed for a new life in New Zealand.
In His farewell game, at Deeside Leisure Centre, Stuart captained the Crusaders for the final time as his side took on Super League side, Warrington Wolves, a side that Williams has starred for in a few of their league games this season.
The Wolves side contained two of Ireland’s World Cup side in Toby Burton-Carter and Nash Jennings, as well as former Scotland and Wales international, Martin Beddis. On paper this was set to be one of the Crusaders’ toughest games of the season as they were effectively playing against a side who were a step above in the league structure, however this was far from the case as Crusaders cruised home 95-6.
It took until just before the eight-minute mark for the Crusaders to break the deadlock as the man of the moment, Williams was on the receiving end of a Harry Jones pass to score. It then took the Crusaders a further 10 minutes to get their next score as they countered a Wolves error for Jones to cross next to the uprights. This is when the floodgates began to open as Lucie Roberts and Mason Baker both crossed before Stephen Halsey intercepted a Warrington pass on his own line to race down the pitch and score in the corner and adding all the extras, taking Crusaders to a 30-0 lead after 25 minutes.
Warrington were then able to get over the line as the defence briefly fell asleep, the successful conversion took to the score to Crusaders 30, Warrington 6 with little over 10 minutes left to play in the half.
Their try seemed to give Warrington seemed to give them a bit of a confidence boost which was highlighted by some strong defensive sets. However it was soon dashed as Williams was once again able to capitalise and dot down between the sticks. Following this try, Crusaders brought on Martin Turner, on debut for the first team following a string of great performances for their ‘A’ team, Halsey and Jones both crossed before the half-time hooter with the former adding all the extras from the tee, taking the score to North Wales Crusaders 48-6 Warrington Wolves at the break.
The second half was very much the same as the experience of the Crusaders truly showed in this half. It took little over two minutes for the Crusaders to get on the scoreboard as Jones coasted through to score then a further minute for Turner to grab a try on his first team debut, a quick regather of the ball from kick-off saw some slick passing play by the Crusaders with Halsey crossing once more.
After some strong defense by the Crusaders, Lewis Lawrinson entered the field for his third appearance for the Crusaders’ first team. Harry Jones was next to cross the line as he collected a loose ball and glide over. In just the next phase of play, Halsey was able to add more damage to the Warrington team by managing to score the club’s first drop-goal of the season.
It took a further eight minutes for the Crusaders to get their next score as Jones claimed a bouncing kick to cross in the corner, He was over again little over 5 minutes later as he broke through to score in the corner. With little over 10 minutes left of the game, Roberts broke through the Wire defense which led to some slick handling for Halsey to cross in the corner, and for the first time in the game was unable to add the extras.
Next came the score of the game as Jones collected a loose ball to charge up-field and thread a kick through three defenders for Williams to gather and score. The Crusaders tried all they could to get one more score to take their points tally to triple figures, however, it wasn’t to be.
Following this match, the clubs’ A teams also met in a friendly. Warrington A were looking to claim their first victory over their Crusaders counterparts, whilst the Welsh were looking to extend their undefeated run.
Warrington were forced into a very early change as just seconds into the clash, a chair malfunction forced a Wolves replacement with former Crusaders player, Amy Parker entering the field. A strong attacking set by the Crusaders saw them progress up the field with confidence, this then followed by a number of heavy tackles forced the Wolves to reset play with a goal-line drop-out. Crusaders youngster, Matthew Turner was the quickest to react as he gathered the drop-out which set in motion John Doyle whose quick off-load put Martin Turner (father of Matthew) over in the corner for the first try of the game in little under three minutes. Crusaders were then forced into a change as Mason Baker was brought on to assist the younger players following a chair malfunction.
The next 15 minutes were very even with both sides getting their fair share of possession with Fionn McCabe of the Crusaders putting in a very strong defensive effort which included 28 tackles and defusing a high kick under the pressure of three Wolves players, Matthew Turner soon returned to the field, replacing the soon to be 70 year old, John Doyle.
With little over 10 minutes left in the first half, the Wolves thought they caught a break via an interception within the Crusaders eight metre line, however, some great defensive pressure from Hayley Matthews and Martin Turner force an error on the second tackle, resulting in a turn-over. Sophie Bamford soon after entered the field, with the ex-Rochdale Hornets player replacing Matthew Turner on the Wing, next onto the field was young 11-year-old, Ethan Nielson who was making his debut for the North Wales outfit and quickly made a difference, putting in some strong tackles and carries. Crusaders were finally once again able to cross the whitewash as Martin Turner was able to capitalise on the sleeping defensive winger to break down the pitch to score and add the extras. After some more back and forth the half-time hooter soon sounded, with the Crusaders going into half-time up 12-0.
The second half was a very even affair with both sides coming out to prove a point, Warrington didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of their Super League counterparts and go pointless in the second half, whilst the Crusaders team were looking to continue their 100% record this season, with some players wanting to showcase just why they deserve to play first team football.
Warrington were straight away on the up as a Doyle kcik-off trickled over the deadball line for a ‘seven tackle set’. This then caused the Crusaders to go on the defensive which forced a penalty for a double tag, forcing the Crusaders to defend from their own line. This seemed to be the catalyst for the Wolves as Parker beat her defender to score between the posts for their first score of the game and the Wolves’ first second-half try of the day, a successful conversion for the Wolves made the game a six-point affair. The Crusaders were once again on the back foot as a strong Wolves attacking set forced a goal-line drop-out.
The Crusaders needed to settle down and do so fast, in an attempt to do this, Harry Jones came on to provide the younger and less experienced players some assistance. Both sides continued to force errors with the Crusaders falling short on a number of occasions when at the Warrington line. However, they were soon to be forgiven for their hard work as Fionn McCabe threw a no-look over the head offload to put Sophie Bamford in for a try in the corner, Martin Turner adding the extras to restore the Crusaders’ 12-point lead.
The Crusaders thought they were in straight from kick-off, however some scramble defense by the Wolves stopped them in their tracks and forcing a knock-on completely stopped the Crusaders’ pressure. The Crusaders weathered the wire storm and were able to break the line and burst up the pitch in consecutive sets, first through Sophie Bamford and second through Matthew Turner, however as was the tale of the half, the Warrington scramble defense was extremely strong and they were able to keep the North Wales side out.
It took until little under 10 minutes left of the game until the next score as a missed intercept attempt by Harry Jones sent the Crusaders’ defence reeling and Warrington over just next to the uprights, the successful conversion took the game back to a six-point affair. With just three minutes left on the clock, the Crusaders were given a bit of a break as they were awarded a penalty for an accidental ball steal, Martin Turner opting to kick the goal, taking it to an 8-point game and making a victory that bit closer for the Welsh side.
The Crusaders looked to seal the victory as they marched up the field with intent, a few failed attempts and forced errors brought that victory even closer. The Crusaders thought they had scored through debutant Ethan Nielson who was stopped as he grounded to ball, to a roar of boos from all the spectators and both benches as the youngster was prevented from scoring, however, these boos soon turned to cheers as Nielson was able to squeeze over in the corner for a debut try, Martin Turner electing not to kick the conversion, taking the game to North Wales Crusaders ‘A’ 24 – 12 Warrington Wolves ‘A’.