The reborn Crusaders claimed the first win of the Super League season as they comfortably overcame a below par Salford City Reds outfit 36-16 in front of less than 4,000 spectators on a bitterly cold evening at The Willows.
The visitors, who handed Welsh internationals Elliot Kear and Ben Flower their first starts of the season, started brightly and forced a goal line drop out after just 2 minutes and opened the scoring a couple of minutes later through Vince Mellars. Michael Witt‘s high cross field bomb was easily claimed by the centre to put the visitors in front with Witt adding the extras.
However, the lead lasted a matter of seconds as Peter Lupton made a hash of Stefan Ratchford‘s restart and the home side reclaimed the loose ball to score through Daniel Holdsworth. Ratchford’s conversion levelled the scoreline but the Wrexham-based club were back in front a minute later.
Lupton, atoning for his earlier error, produced a beautiful delayed pass to Frank Winterstein and the former Wakefield man touched down in the corner for the second try of the evening, although Witt’s conversion attempt was off target.
Crusaders extended their lead after 13 minutes as Witt’s neat chip kick allowed Mellars to claim his second of the night but Witt was unable to land the conversion once again.
Salford had a gilt edged chance to score after 20 minutes when Holdsworth left Mellars, who sometimes looks as unsteady in defence as he does potent in attack, trailing but his inside ball to Matty Smith was fumbled by the on-loan St Helens man. Holdsworth and Smith did eventually combine a few minutes later when the former Canterbury Bulldogs player showed a neat turn of pace to break the line and this time Smith collected the pass and scored his second try of the campaign with Ratchford adding the conversion to make the scoreline 14-12 in the visitors favour at the break.
Any home supporters hoping for an improved showing after the interval were in for miserable second period. The visitors, with the impressive Michael Witt orchestrating matters, produced a dominant performance that resulted in chants of derision from the Salford faithful.
Mellars and Witt combined again to give the New Zealander a first Super League hat-trick through another cross field kick, once more exposing frailties in the right sided Salford defence. Witt then claimed a try of his own following some cavalier rugby by the Crusaders. The visitors opting to run the ball on the last and some quick passes between Luke Dyer and Nick Youngquest creating the opening for the former Manly, Parramatta and Warriors star.
Salford, lacking in creativity and inspiration, suffered a further blow when Holdsworth, one of the few City Reds players to emerge with any credit, was sin binned for interference and Jamie Thackray rolled back the years to crash over the line for yet another Crusaders try.
The chorus of boos that greeted Thackray’s try seemed to spur Shaun McRae’s side into life and they looked to have scored following a spiralling kick but referee Steve Ganson ruled the effort out. By now the home side were looking to keep the ball alive at every opportunity and they finally got off the mark for the second period through Fitzpatrick but Ratchford was unable to land the conversion.
The last word however aptly went to man of the match Michael Witt as yet another towering bomb was juggled by the shaky City Reds defenders and Gareth Raynor gathered the ball to score his second try of the season.