Crusaders 12 - Hornets 14
Well, it seems a week IS a long time in Rugby League.
Hornets delivered a gutsy, steely performance to snatch the points in what was a fizzing, boiling time-bomb of a game played at high tempo, high impact and, often, on the ragged edge of the laws. Indeed, you needed to focus hard on this one to take it all in as Hornets soaked up 78 minutes of relentless pressure to come up with a killer knock-out blow in the dying minutes.
The game began intensly, both sides forcing early errors. And when Crusaders’ Thompson went down with a leg injury in after just four minutes, the home fans upped the ante - braying for a dismissal Ref. Mr Hewer stuck it on report, waved time-on and played on.
Hornets pressed hard: Tony Suffolk held-up in-goal off a last-tackle drive. No matter. Two minutes later Jack Ashworth ghosted past Jullien to leave the home defence in scrambling tatters. With support queuing up either side, his short-ball sent Wayne English in for a great try. Crooky cool as you like from wide out; 0-6.
A short scrappy exchange ended with Crusaders given a penalty for holding down, the home side capitalising with quick hands to Massam to score by the flag after 15 minutes. Johnson the two, the sides locked up at 6-all.
With both sides wrestling for an opening, it was Hornets that took advantage of Crusaders’ growing frustration. A big idiotic head-shot on Danny Yates gave Paul Crook a simple penalty to shade Hornets in front at 6-8.
With flowing football at a premium, Hornets looked more likely to score: A Danny Yates kick-through forcing a drop-out; A Wayne English chip & chase into the in-goal swept up by a retreating defence.
With the half ebbing away, Crusaders shipped a soft penalty right in front for ball-stealing. This time Danny Yates slotting over the two - derided by the locals for opting for the penalty. Oh - the irony.
Having stretched their fragile lead, Hornets contrived to cock-up the kick-off - giving Crusdaders six tackles to pound their line with less than a minute remaining. As it was, the Welsh side coughed the ball first tackle and Hornets ended the half carrying the ball 80 metres back downfield.
Half time 6-10. Electric.
Hornets began the second half in the worst possible fashion. Just two minutes in, some very ordinary tackling in the left channel gave Wild room to skate through and score. 10-all -the home fans near wetting themselves.
Despite a scrappy third quarter punctuated by dropped kicks, bad tempers and a fracas that saw Hornets’ Tony Suffolk and Crusaders’ Davies given 10 minutes for fighting, Hornets stayed resolutely in the arm-wrestle. Indeed it took back-to-back penalties to break the deadlock on 65 minutes. Crusaders now accepting an easy two points to edge ahead 12-10. The home crowd, curiously, liking this a lot.
With 15 to play, it really did come down to who wanted it most.
On 70 minutes, the vociferous Hornets contingent were incensed by a blatant display of gamesmanship by Crusaders’ former roly-poly figure of fun Jono Smith. As play proceeded past the ruck, Smith took a dive in back-play and lay there until the referee had given the penalty, whereupon he jumped to his feet miraculously healed, laughing to the crowd at how he’d conned the officials. To be fair, it was pretty much the only thing of any consequence he did all afternoon. His obvious trips to Weightwatchers have left him half the player he was in every sense.
Back at the game, Hornets went on the attack, only for Massam to intercept; tracked down, then scythed down by Wayne English on half-way. The momentum now with North Wales.
As Crusaders chucked the sink at the unbending Hornets defence, it became clear that it would require a moment of magic to steal this one. It arrived on 78 minutes. Alex McClurg stepping through the smallest of gaps to carry play 40 metres upfield, then quick hands left where Dale Bloomfield piled straight through Turner to plant the ball by the flag. Hornets fans go nuts. Stunned silence from the home crowd. Crooky just wide with the conversion; 12-14
But this game stil had a potential twist in the tail; Crusaders regathering the kick-off to launch one last attack, but Hornets held firm to smash & grab a memorable victory that hoists them back into second place - and which leaves Crusaders the lowest ranked of the ‘heartland’ clubs.
For any neutrals at the Rock, this would have been an fast, intense, exciting contest. Otherwise it was a heart-attack on a stick, with chewed nails and frayed nerves the order of the day. But - as we’ve said lots of times here - sometimes you just have to find a way to win. This was one of those occasions.
And to the Crusaders fan who went out of his way at the end to tell me to “F*ck off back to Rochdale” - we did. With the two points.