North Wales Crusaders 22 Oldham 20

Date published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013
WE produced one of our best displays of the season at Wrexham on Sunday where we suffered the bitter disappointment of going down 22-20 to the unbeaten league leaders North Wales Crusaders.

It was so close that Lewis Palfrey had the chance to equalised  with the last kick of the game, but his conversion attempt off the touchline following Jon Ford’s try as the final hooter sounded passed just wide of the far post.

A draw was the least we deserved for matching Crusaders all the way — apart from a silly spell of seven minutes just after half-time when they scored 16 of their 22 points — in a brilliantly entertaining and fiercely-contested game that was a terrific advert for rugby league in Championship One.

In an action-packed game there were thrills and spills at both ends of the field, disputed decisions, close calls and more than enough talking points to keep a crowd of close on 1,000 busy for the rest of the week.

At the end Oldham fans gave the players a standing ovation.

They had gone closer than any other Championship One side this season to lowering the colours of the league leaders, who were definitely rattled in the last half hour of the game when Roughyeds looked to have enough left in the tank to snatch it.

Crusaders went ahead with a Gary Middlehurst try after 14 minutes, but Oldham went stronger as the half went on and Scott’s men had the fans on the edge of their seats with a couple of superb tries in the run-up to half-time.

Richard Lepori got over first on Palfrey’s inside ball and Mo Agoro scored the next one in the corner after great work by Jason Boults and Adam Files followed by skipper Palfrey’s superbly-judged kick to the corner.

Mo did the rest, leaping high in the air to take the ball, twist and get the touchdown all in one movement and despite his close proximity to the touchline and the corner flag.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, Crusaders began the second half like a runaway train, giving Stuart Reardon the ball as much as possible and relying on the former Bradford and Warrington star to get them out of trouble.

He was the main man in the build-up to tries by Dan Birkett and Tommy Johnson, while Crusaders also recorded a fluke try by Middlehurst following a Jamie Dallimore kick, a fly hack and a ricochet which left Middlehurst with an easy touch down.

At 22-10 down many a side would have capitulated against such a strong side as Crusaders, but this Oldham squad is made of sterner stuff than that and they rolled up sleeves to totally dominate the last half hour.

There is no doubt that with a little bit more steadiness in finishing and execution they would have gone on to win the game.

As it was they had a “try” by Adam Files disallowed before Files made no mistake with another of his trademark specials to extend his scoring run to eight games. Palfrey added the extras and with 25 minutes still to go it was a six-point ball game, with Oldham starting to get on top.

In the end the Roughyeds ran out of time, but not before Sammy Gee got over the line only to be held up and then Ford touched down in the corner on a last-tackle Palfrey kick to the corner, which home winger Rob Massam misfielded.

It was all down to skipper Lewis after that, but he couldn’t quite place the ball where he wanted it to go and Crusaders survived.

Nevertheless, it was an inspirational performance by the Roughyeds who claimed a vital bonus point to stick hold of third spot in the division.

It was a fantastic all-round team show but there were impressive stand-out performances by Richard Lepori, halfbacks Palfrey and Kenny Hughes, prop Phil Joy and Adam Files.

Scorers: Crusaders — goals, Johnson (3); tries, Middlehurst (2), Birkett, Johnson; Oldham — goals, Palfrey (2); tries, Lepori, Agoro, Files, Ford.

Crusaders: Johnson; Birkett, Reardon, Brennan, Massam; Moulsdale, Dallimore; Brown, McConnell, Stephens, Gorski, Middlehurst, Adamson. Subs: Hudson, Smith, Clarke, Macdonald.

Oldham: Lepori; Agoro, Ford, Nield, Bloomfield; Palfrey, Hughes; Joy, Gee, Gilchrist, Crowley, Langtree, Thompson. Subs: Files, Hobson, Ward, Boults.

Referee: Clint Sharrad; Att: 962.