Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Sunday's Coming: Crusaders

It's shit or bust weekend in the Northern Rail Cup. 

With two whopping wins from two -  last week's 30-4 victory over hapless Gateshead backing up their brutal flogging of Oldham -  North Wales Crusaders are in the box-seat for winning Pool A. Having overcome difficult conditions  - including dog-shit on the pitch - at New Craven Park last week, Clive Griffiths was delighted with the win. “We’re delighted with the win”, he said. 

He also went on to say: “We had a target to keep them at nil up until half-time, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before, and we managed that…"  -  all part of his strategy to build match-winning platforms on the back of a big defensive effort.

Once again Griffiths gives us a big clue to the way Crusaders tick in his summary of the Gateshead game: "… apart from the kicks over and a few spins out of the tackle, they didn’t really break us. We put huge focus on improving our collisions and line speed in pre-season, so to see what we’ve been working on come off is pleasing." 

He also seems to have got roly-poly playmaker Jono Smith to what he describes as, "…  an extra level of fitness."  "Now he can do a full 80 minutes easily," said Griffiths, undoubtedly to the dismay of the caterers at the Racecourse Ground. But he is a tricky handful to play against and, playing behind a pack potentially containing Phil Braddish, Dave McConnell, Ryan Macdonald, Adam Bowman and Gary Middlehurst, I think it's safe to expect a gargantuan forward battle.

They also have ex-Super League wing Stuart Reardon in the side, who weighed in with two tries last week - so danger out wide as well.

Victory for Crusaders on Sunday would guarantee them a place in the Northern Rail Bowl/Plate/Saucer curtain-raiser to the NRC final. A defeat would leave Crusaders and Hornets in a last-round points-race against Hemel Stags and Pool B leaders London Skolars respectively to secure a day out in sunny Halifax on July 20th 

With two games to play, Oldham are also in with a mathematical chance of progress. They look set for a win against Gateshead at Whitebank on Sunday, though their current -20 points difference might prove too big a hurdle to overcome.

So we reckon all eyes are on Wrexham on Sunday - and if Hornets are be in with any chance of achieving target-one for 2013, a win is essential. Anything else and the NRC once again becomes a meaningless pre-season trial series - and freezing our arses off at Whitebank will all have been for nothing.

And I quite fancy Halifax in July, so here's hoping we see the best of Hornets on Sunday.