North Wales Crusaders win Northern Rail Bowl

A dominant final half hour earned North Wales Crusaders victory in the first ever Northern Rail Bowl final against plucky London Skolars.

The capital club were in the game for long periods, and hit the front for the first time through Dylan Skee‘s penalty on 48 minutes at The Shay.

But North Wales‘ response to falling behind proved too much for Skolars, with Clive Griffiths’ side justifying their tags as favourites for promotion to the Championship by claiming the first piece of silverware of the season with a 42-24 victory.

It added yet another headline to the short, yet eventful history of the Crusaders, who reformed as North Wales at the beginning of last season following the demise of the Crusaders Super League franchise.

It was a cagey start to the game as both of these Championship 1 clubs felt each other out, in the clash of the two winners from the group stages of this season’s Northern Rail Cup.

Skolars had the best of the possession and field position in the first 10 minutes, and they came close to a try when Mike Bishay‘s chip in to the in-goal area caused problems for the North Wales defence, but the video referee replays showed that Andy Moulsdale had got the ball dead just in time.

That seemed to wake the Welsh side up, and they grabbed the first points through Tommy Johnson on the quarter of an hour mark.

Skolars responded within three minutes, Dylan Skee forcing a repeat set with a smart kick and dual-registered London Bronco Erjon Dollapi finding a gap in the line to touch down.

The introduction of forward trio Ryan McDonald, Owain Brown and the excellent Jono Smith swung the match in the Welsh side’s favour, coupled with excellent kicking from stand-off Andy Moulsdale.

A big drive from Smith set the platform for a fine Moulsdale kick to the corner, and as a Skolars defender looked to usher it dead, Christian Roets never gave it up, and managed to touch it down before the dead ball line for 12-6.

The platform for the next try came from a McDonald drive, before Smith’s charging run and offload set up Moulsdale for a simple score. Johnson missed the extras, to leave the score at 16-6.

But London dug in, and they finished the first half strongest, and clawed their way back in to it.

A poor read by McDonald on James Anthony created the space for Louis Robinson to weave his way in near the posts, and straight from the kick-off, SKolars broke down the right through Michael Worrincy, and then shifted the ball left for Ade Adebisi to touch down in the corner, and level things up at 16 all at half time.

The two expansion sides had served up an entertaining 40 minutes, and the game was finely poised as the second half began.

Consecutive penalties handed Skolars field position, and after North Wales were pinned for stripping out and dissent, Skee took a shot at goal to give them the lead for the first time on 48 minutes.

But the game turned once again. From the kick-off, the ball came back off the crossbar to give North Wales unexpected field position.

After Smith had been denied a try close to the line, Gary Middlehurst weaved through off Jamie Dallimore‘s pass to edge them back in front at 20-18.

The game was there for the taking, and just after the hour, Dave McConnell spun over after running out of options to pass at dummy half, and Tommy Johnson’s conversion made it a two-score game.

Dallimore took the game to London, and showed a fine turn of pace only to be denied close to the line, but moments later he sent Middlehurst on a charge and Rob Massam scored in the corner for the gamebreaker.

As Skolars tired, further tries were scored by Steven Bannister and Dan Birkett, either side of a Sam Wellings consolation, as North Wales sent their noisy travelling contingent home more than happy.

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