Crusaders got their season off to a perfect start with a 42-12 demolition of much-fancied Salford.
Hat-trick hero Michael Witt orchestrated an impressive display which helps to immediately reduce the four point penalty handed to Crusaders for entering administration late last year.
After a close season of off-field troubles, a return to the pitch was much welcomed and Iestyn Harris‘ men got off to a quick start when Rhys Williams, playing his first game for the club on-loan from Warrington, crossed the whitewash.
Much has been made of Salford’s recruitment in the off-season, and they are fancied by many to make the play-offs this season, and they didn’t take long to restore parity when Daniel Holdsworth dummied his way over.
Crusaders restored their six point advantage when Witt crossed for his first try, and they stretched that lead to ten soon after. Stuart Reardon benefited from a bit of fortune when the ball was dislodged from Vince Mellars‘ grasp and right in to the hands of the former Bradford and Warrington wing man.
In what was an entertaining opening half, Salford got themselves back in the game thanks to a lovely weighted kick by scrum half Matty Smith which was pounced upon by marquee signing Luke Patten, to reduce arrears to 16-12.
Clinton Schifcofske landed a penalty goal on the stroke of half time to give the Crusaders an 18-12 half time lead, but the game was finely poised.
Salford started the second half well, but the turning point came when a brilliant piece of play by Schifcofske got the Crusaders out of a hole. After the Reds had forced a drop-out, the full-back spotted an opportunity and managed to kick and retrieve the ball himself.
It enabled Crusaders to get a foot hold, and they soon set about pressurising the Salford line. Two smart kicks forced drop-outs, with both Jodie Broughton and Mark Henry scrambling back to knock dead pressure plays by the Welsh side.
The pressure told, and when Lincoln Withers pierced through the midfield after a couple of quick play the balls, the stage was set for Harris’ side to take advantage.
And they did just that. Jason Chan powered his way over two defenders to touch down, after approval from the video referee to give Crusaders a 24-12 lead.
Playmaking trio Witt, Jarrod Sammut and Schifcofske were now hitting their straps, and it was an intelligent play by Sammut that led to their fifth try. The half-back stripped the ball from Patten one-on-one after the signing from Canterbury Bulldogs had claimed a high ball. From the resulting set of six, Witt coasted through a gap for his second try.
By now, the game was dead and buried, and Witt helped himself to a third, before Reardon crossed for his second late on.
Salford’s frustrations boiled over at the death as Schifcofske started to run riot, and soon after a late shot on him by Chris Nero, Wayne Godwin was sent off for throwing a punch at the former Canberra Raiders full-back.
Crusaders: Schifcofske, Reardon, Thomas, Mellars, Williams, Martin, Witt, Bryant, Withers, Flower, Dudson, Chan, Johnson. Subs: Sammut, Moore, O’Hara, Peek.
Tries: Williams 5, Witt 18, 60, 62, Reardon 20, 70, Chan 55
Goals: Schifcofske 5, 18, 39, 55, 60, 62, 70
Salford: Patten, Gibson, Nero, Henry, Broughton, Smith, Holdsworth, Sidlow, Godwin, Jewitt, Neal, Adamson, Wild. Subs: Palae’aesina, Spencer, Parker, Ratchford.
Tries: Holdsworth 11, Patten 25
Goals: Holdsworth 11, 25