Pre-game favourites Barrow Raiders won the first silverware of the new season thanks to victory in a high scoring League One Cup Final. It was a superb advert for the league with pulsating rugby played throughout.
Barrow scored four tries to edge the first half. The first came two minutes in when Nathan Mossop was somehow able to ground the ball despite the attentions of three defenders. Lewis Charnock goaled for an early 6-0 lead.
Another attack saw Dan Toal go close after a clever kick by Charnock but fortunately for the Crusaders the ball rolled dead, allowing North Wales to clear their lines. A high kick spiralled high but Corey Lee was found offside and Barrow charged forward. Crusaders held their nerve in defence and the game ebbed until their next chance.
Thompson charged inside the twenty and Ryan Smith was hit hard and high. The response was almost immediate with Jack Houghton piercing the defence at the side of the posts. Tommy Johnson, who recently surpassed 1,000 points for Crusaders, goaled and the game was level at 6-6.
Fourteen minutes in Martin Aspinwall was held up and the Crusaders repelled their line.
A clever kick by Jamie Dallimore, Man of the Match for Crusaders when they won the first League One Cup final a couple of years ago, forced a drop out for Barrow but they were unable to take advantage. A driving tackle on Callum Mulkeen then forced an error.
Barrow looked on top and appeared set to score with a flowing move to their right but Dale Bloomfield took an intercept to fly 90 metres and score at the other end after 20 minutes. Johnson again goaled and it was 12-6 to North Wales.
The mid-range restart caused problems but North Wales retained possession, going forty metres before a delicate chip by Smith was gathered in by Ryan Fieldhouse. Again Barrow squandered possession, giving North Wales the chance to go at them before Shane Toal was taken out in the air.
The Raiders came up with the perfect response after 25 minutes. Dallimore slid an inviting kick behind the defence and Luke Cresswell touched down out wide. Charnock goaled from the touchline to lock the scores at 12-12.
Barrow again looked set to go on top with powerful runs by Fieldhouse and Charnock after Jack Hansen’s pass sailed into touch off Johnson’s arms, but Daniel Abram was held up and the Raiders lost possession. North Wales responded gamely but couldn’t complete the set after an error from Baker. This again invited Barrow onto the line.
This time slick movement worked with Declan Hulme gliding over after handling by Dallimore, Charnock and Fieldhouse. That came after 34 minutes and Raiders extended their advantage four minutes later when Danny Morrow went in from another Dallimore kick. Both went unconverted and Raiders led 20-12 at half-time.
A minute into the second half Barrow forced a drop out. Declan Hulme was held up and Johnson expertly cleared his lines of a potentially tricky Charnock kick.
Jack Hansen saw his kick charged down which gave North Wales another chance and they took it with great aplomb. Jonny Walker hit a short ball and Hansen supported him to cross at the side of the posts with Johnson converting.
It was 20-18, although Barrow again chanced their arm with a short restart before losing the ball a couple of metres short of the try line.
The first penalty of the second half went the Raiders way and they marched into Crusaders territory with Abram causing havoc only to lose possession at a crucial time.
Walker marched Crusaders into positive territory and some fine work from Hansen and Johnson gave Callum Mulkeen the opportunity to show his strength, holding off a number of defenders to touch down and give North Wales the lead. Johnson goaled superbly and it was 24-20.
The turnaround continued when Ryan Smith came up with a brilliant individual try, dancing into an opening before burning off the cover from 25 metres. Johnson maintained his record with the boot to make it 30-20.
Barrow squandered chance after chance. First Shane Toal dashed away only for his inside pass to Fieldhouse to go forward. Another forward pass denied Barrow moments later as Dallimore released for Oliver Wilkes.
Eventually took one when Shane Toal flew in at the corner but again Charnock saw his conversion attempt sail wide. The Raiders needed another score and visibly sped up their dummy half play.
Aspinwall charged inside the twenty and Crusaders manned the defence to deny Fieldhouse but were powerless to stop Joe Bullock crossing ten metres to the side of the posts, Dallimore converted and it was all square at 30-30.
The game swung again with Crusaders going into the Barrow twenty. Impressive Aaron Moore was prevented from scoring, but North Wales were awarded a penalty for offside and Johnson nudged over the goal hand Crusaders the lead, 32-30.
Dallimore attempted a chip two minutes later and was impeded. The half-back converted to level again to make it 32-all.
Barrow then completed their own comeback with Morrow grabbing his second try from dummy half. Dallimore goaled much to the delight of the Barrow fans and the Raiders led 38-32.
With a final throw of the dice Crusaders moved inside the Barrow twenty again but a pass from Johnson sailed out on the full and Barrow held out for the victory and silverware.
Barrow: Ryan Fieldhouse, Shane Toal, Declan Hulme, Thomas Loxam, Luke Cresswell; Jamie Dallimore, Lewis Charnock; Joe Bulloch, Nathan Mossop, Oliver Wilkes, Daniel Morrow, Daniel Toal, Martin Aspinwall. Subs: Daniel Abram, Thomas Walker, James Duerden, Andrew Dawson.
North Wales: Tommy Johnson, Corey Lee, Alex Thompson, Callum Mulkeen, Dale Bloomfield; Jack Hansen, Ryan Smith, Jonny Walker, James Dandy, Alex Davidson, Kenny Baker, Jack Houghton, Luke Warburton. Subs: Aaron Moore, Daniel Price, Andrew Unsworth, Blake Turner.
Referee: S Race.
(Image permission: Richard Long)