North Wales Crusaders 62 Cornwall 22 – Report
April 2, 2022
The standing ovation at full-time told its own story.
Cornwall RLFC, in their first ever professional match, had somehow dragged themselves off the canvas to give much-fancied North Wales Crusaders a real fright during large parts of the second half.
And at 38-22 behind with just 12 minutes left, those in attendance at the Eirias Stadium knew that the next score would finally swing the pendulum one way or the other.
Sadly for the spirited Choughs, it was North Wales who registered points – putting the game to bed and gloss on the win which was comprehensive, but hugely encouraging from a visiting point of view.
Before the Colwyn Bay points fest, Cornwall head coach Neil Kelly was able to select from a virtually fully fit squad with only Josh Tora missing out through injury. The Flying Fijian hadn’t fully recovered from a hamstring injury picked up in training although he should return for next week’s home clash with Midlands Hurricanes.
Recent signing Jamie Prisk was handed the captain’s role earlier in the day and he started at loose forward. Joe Purcell and Matty Turton partnered at half back while former Super League Grand Final winner Anthony Mullally packed down in the front row.
On a crisp spring afternoon, it was Crusaders, who are many pundits’ favourites to win the Betfred League 1 title, who drew first blood. Gav Rodden found space out wide and after he cut a good line from 25 metres out, crossed in the corner. Tommy Johnson added the extras.
Pre-game predictions that Cornwall might be in for a tough afternoon then came to roost when North Wales scored two further converted scores. Firstly a set scrum play resulted in Rob Massam registering before Jordy Gibson seemingly put the game to bed with barely 10 minutes elapsed on the watch of merry whistle blower Michaal Mannifield.
But despite being in such a position of superiority, North Wales then suffered the first of two bouts of ill-discipline when Callum Wood was sent to the sin-bin for an attempted cannonball tackle on Liam Whitton.
Although playing with a numerical disadvantage, Rodden added a fourth Crusaders try and Massam turning provider for Johnson saw the hosts 30-0 up and running riot.
Whitton was again involved in another Crusaders yellow card when he was involved in a spat with Callum Hazzard. Words were exchanged and Hazzard pressed the self-destruct button and slapped Whitton across the face.
With a man advantage, again, Cornwall started to show further signs of promise with ball in hand and after the visitors’ forward pack continued to make good ground, Matty Turton made history with the club’s first ever try.
Joe Purcell almost jinked his way to the line on the fourth play and then, after bravely running the ball on the last, Kyle Johns’ outrageous basketball style pass played in Turton who finished well. Johns then kicked a wonderful touchline conversion and Cornwall were up and running.
Joy from the league newcomers was short lived though as Harry Swarbrick made it six of the best for North Wales with another try before the interval hooter. Johnson lost his 100 per cent record from the tee but the hosts then still led 34-8 at the turnaround.
The second stanza started with North Wales incurring the wrath of the referee for standing in front of the kicker and this inspired Cornwall who enjoyed a real purple patch which resulted in three quick-fire tries.
Harry Aaronson was the first Chough to score in the second period when he intercepted Jack Houghton’s wayward pass to race 70 metres to score. Then Cornwall scored arguably the try of the game as prop Paul Bolger’s delightful delayed inside pass opened up a game for Liam Whitton to race into.
The former Halifax and Featherstone full-back outpaced the Crusaders’ rear guard and despite being tackled close to the line, managed to ground the ball. However, whilst scoring, the 20-year-old hit the ground hard and after initial concern from the away medical staff, was able to walk gingerly from the field.
Losing Whitton didn’t have a detrimental effect on Cornwall’s attacking prowess and they really set North Wales nerves jangling with another score.
Bolger was involved again and his combination with Aaronson created good field position. Again, executing a power play, Cornwall scored as a quick play-the-ball from replacement hooker Sam Gilder found Sam Snell who crashed through.
At just two converted scores behind, it was very much game on although home flyer Ah Van, who played Super League for Bradford and Widnes amongst others, put his side back in the box seat shortly after Cornwall’s points blitz with his side’s seventh try.
The game then became a real War of Attrition with neither side taking a backward step. Both Prisk and Josh Hartshorne were then in the wars and subsequently patched up by club physio Sam Wicketts while Snell was forced off after he suffered a nose injury.
With 15 minutes of an enthralling clash left to play, though, Massam secured the points and Celtic Shield for North Wales. Then with the away side tiring, Anthony Murray’s hosts really turned the screw and scored four further tries.
Reece Briers, son of current Wigan assistant coach Lee, who was present amongst the healthy crowd, bagged a quick-fire brace as scrum-half Brad Billsborough and replacement Jack Holmes completed the scoring.
Although disappointing to ship late tries, there was much encouragement for Cornwall who are back making history next Sunday when they welcome Midlands Hurricanes to the Memorial Ground.
North Wales Crusaders: Johnson, Turner, Swarbrick, Ah-Van, Massam, Gibson, Billsborough, Barratt, Wood, Hazard, Rodden, Sherratt, Fletcher. Interchange: Briers, Grainey, Houghton, Holmes.
Tries: Rodden (2), Massam (2), Briers (2), Gibson, Swarbrick, Ah Van, Billsborough, Holmes. Goals: Johnson 7/12
Cornwall: Whitton, Aaronson, Snell, Johns, Symons, Turton, Purcell, Mullally, Lloyd, Ray, Hartshorne, Thomson, Prisk. Interchange: Bolger, Trerise, Gilder, Collings.
Tries: Turton, Aaronson, Whitton, Snell. Goals: Johns 3/4
Referee: Michael Mannifield.