Report: Scoreline flatters Batley as Crusaders hold their own against higher league opposition

Rob Massam charges upfield during Crusaders’ pre-season friendly at Batley Bulldogs. Picture source: Memory Mill Photo

North Wales Crusaders put in an encouraging display in their opening 2016 pre-season friendly at Batley Bulldogs.

Although Anthony Murray’s men were on the wrong end of a 36–18 scoreline, they can take plenty from their performance against a side that should be competing near the top end of the Championship this season.

In truth, the final margin of 18 points flattered the Bulldogs, who already had one friendly under their belt after their Boxing Day derby victory over Dewsbury Rams.

Crusaders, who fielded 11 of their off-season signings, more than held their own against higher level opposition.

You couldn’t tell that it was the visitors’ first outing and there were so many new faces, as they opened the scoring within the first ten minutes.

And it was two debutants who were involved in the try; Ryan Smith put up a high kick, it bounced back off the post and Danny Jones gratefully collected to touch down.

Batley responded well with some sustained pressure on Crusaders’ line, but the Welshmen’s superb scrambling defence repeatedly held them back.

Eventually, though, the host’s territory did count, as Danny Cowling darted over the line.

Rob Massam went close for Crusaders, knocking the ball on as he went to collect Jamie Dallimore’s kick to the corner, before Batley took the lead on the hooter.

It was a try that could have been prevented; Alistair Leak spotted a gap between North Wales’ markers and went over from dummy half.

Playing downhill in the second-half, the home side began rapidly after the break, scoring two tries in the opening five minutes.

First, Shaun Squires managed to find his way through a gap down the right and then Cain Southernwood supported a first-class Sam Scott break to finish next to the posts.

At that point, Crusaders found themselves three tries behind and could easily have fallen apart, but they hung in there and made sure they competed for the remainder of the game.

Tommy Johnson pulled one back for North Wales when he supported a nice team move involving former Leigh pair Mitchell Cox and Jack Hansen.

Tommy Johnson was one of three Crusaders try-scorers on the day. Picture source: Memory Mill Photo

Then, Chris Ulugia forced his way over the line for Batley’s fifth of the afternoon, before Smith went close for Crusaders after throwing an outrageous dummy on halfway and breaking upfield.

Danny Rasool, another player making his first appearance, supported Smith’s show-and-go to grab another for Crusaders.

But it was Batley who had the last say when Dave Scott finished off a flowing move on the last play of the game.

Man of the match

Luke Warburton: Considering it was his first experience of semi-professional rugby, Warburton put in an impressive performance. Going forward, he made good metres and, on another day, would have made a couple of clean breaks to set up opportunities. Defensively, he was also sound. If this display is anything to go by, he could be a great find by Anthony Murray.

Key moment

Batley’s try on the half-time hooter gave them a lead which, in truth, they didn’t deserve to have heading into the break. With Crusaders playing uphill in the second-half, the fact that they found themselves behind made the second-half more difficult.

What next?

There are so many positives that Crusaders can take from the game: 11 new players were in the squad and played well together; there were a number of key players who didn’t play and will come into the frame in the coming weeks; North Wales didn’t fall apart after conceding two quick-fire tries after the break; and the balance between youth and experience is spot on. And that’s just naming a few. Salford, who are set to field a number of first-team players, will be a difficult match next weekend, but there is a lot that can be taken forward to that game.

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