Crusaders got their pre-season away to a winning start at the Stobart Stadium with the help of two tries in the last nine minutes after Widnes had given a strong account of themselves.
Looking to build on the positives of a 48-18 defeat last time out, the Vikings made the best of starts when they opened the scoring in the third minute through mobile Ben Kavanagh who brushed his way through two tackles and then went over the top of fullback Jamie Murphy for Kurt Haggerty to goal.
Widnes continued to take the game to their opponents who named nine players that gained plenty of experience last season with the South wales Scorpions. The Vikings played the better rugby too with the Crusaders adopting a cautious, safety-first approach of few passes and even fewer offloads.
Widnes more cavilier style was rewarded after 15 minutes when Anthony Thackeray quickly sprayed the ball right and Haggerty sold a classic dummy to escape from Elliott Kear and Lee Williams before burning off the inside chase from twenty metres and once again he was on target with the boot to make it 12-0. It could have been worse for the Crusaders after the halfbacks combined only for Thomas Coyle to throw a pass forward having been caught short of the line by Murphy and Crusaders temporarily lost Lincoln Withers after a booming tackle from MacGraff Leuluai forced him from the field for treatment.
If the Vikings dominated the first twenty minutes, the majority of the second quarter belonged to Crusaders as Withers returned and the likes of Richard Moore, Gil Dudson and Ben Flower began to make ground. Confidence surged through the Welsh side and the inventive Lloyd White hit a speculative kick, collected, ran on to draw Danny Craven and Murphy was at his shoulder to finish from 15 metres. White goaled but that was all the scoring in the half despite the best intentions of both sides and some desperate last ditch defending. Enigmatic Jarrod Sammutt also showed his skillset and mistakes as he looked to be running the game and then went through a ten minute spell of errors. Widnes came closest to points in the last five minutes of the half when Shane Grady was judged to have lost possession.
The second half started well for Widnes with Richard Varkulis and Daniel Heckenberg chewing up the metres but an organised defence kept them at bay for seven minutes before a Crusaders counter-attack saw Peter Lupton charge through a tackle and race thirty metres before finding the support of Moore. He in turn shipped the ball wide with a beautiful cut-out pass and Elliot Kear outflanked the defence to score. Sammutt couldn’t goal from out wide and the game switched with Widnes under the kosh for the most part in their own half. The kicking of Kirk Netherton, Thackeray and later Coyle kept Crusaders at bay and it would be fair to say that for twenty minutes, the game lacked spark with all the bluster coming from the visitors while the Vikings remained stoic in their efforts to keep them out. Sammutt, Lupton and Ashley Bateman were all guilty of errors at certain times but there was a feeling that the Vikings did not have enough points on the board when Grady was harshly judged to be held-up in goal when it appeared he slid over and then Crusaders countered to march sixty metres in their next set.
Wave after wave of Crusaders attack came to nothing until the 71st minute when Sammutt added that spark, shooting through to the line from 15 metres. Lloyd White failed with the goal and the last ten minutes got interesting as first Widnes regained possession from the restart and went within an inch of scoring on that set. On their next possession the Vikings threatened again with Steve Tyrer putting down a well placed grubber kick from Tom Gilmore.
As time ticked by, Crusaders fullback Murphy became a key figure. The 21 year old featured in 16 games for the Scorpions in 2010 but now looks set for more at a higher level after cleaning up everything that went his way before completing the games outstanding tackle to halt a full flight Tyrer after the former Saint was handed the opportunity by Danny Craven. Later in the same set, Bateman put Tyrer under pressure again and as the ball spooned up Murphy made a valuable fifteen metres. Having already claimed a try in the first half, the scene was set for Murphy to put the game beyond doubt and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands to outpace a host of defenders in an angled 20 metre dash. White added his second goal and there was still enough time for Tyrer to miss another scoring chance for Widnes before the hooter confirmed a tough win for the North Wales side.
Danny Craven, Dean Gaskell, James Ford, Tangi Ropati, Paddy Flynn; Anthony Thackeray, Thomas Coyle; Richard Varkulis, Kirk Netherton, Anthony Mullally, Kurt Haggerty, MacGraff Leuluai, Ben Kavanagh. Subs: Steve Tyrer, Chris Lunt, Dave Houghton, Shane Grady, Chris Gerrard, Grant Gore, Daniel Heckenberg, Tom Kelly, Jack Owens, Tom Gilmore.
Tries: Kavanagh (3), Haggerty (15).
Goals: Haggerty 2/2.
Jamie Murphy, Stuart Reardon, Ashley Bateman, Elliot Kear, Lee Williams; Jarrod Sammutt, Lincoln Withers; Mark Bryant, Lloyd White, Jordan James, Rhodri Lloyd, Paul Johnson, Peter Lupton. Subs: Richard Moore, Gil Dudson, Ben Flower, Andrew Gay, Joe Burke.
Tries: Murphy (20, 78), Kear (47), Sammutt (71).
Goals: White 2/3, Sammutt 0/1.
Referee: Gareth Hewer.