A game of errors and patchy defending would be the perfect synopsis for the tie at Owlerton. Sheffield just coming out on top with a 24-16 score line, two late Crusaders tries giving the Welshmen a bonus point for their troubles. Highlights for the Crusaders included a brace for Jono Smith, but were let down by extremely bad kicking, first half especially. Kyle Briggs had a quiet debut for Sheffield but will definitely fit into his loose forward role in time.
Two tries in the first ten minutes set the Eagles on their way, confidence and momentum created from the second half at Leigh seemed to be transferred over to Owlerton. A close range Menzie Yere try got the ball rolling, the PNG centre steaming over in typical Menzie fashion. Then the Eagles capitalised on a loose ball thrown by a Crusaders player, a chip and catch by Patch Walker left the stand off in acres of space, he chipped over again, this time to Scott Turner who was never going to lose a foot race to the try line. Brambani could only convert one try, 10-0 early doors. Dom Brambani then had a try ruled out for crossing by ref Chris Kendall.
Defences were on top from the twenty minute mark onwards, attacking fluency very limited on the postage stamp pitch at Owlerton. A try in the dying embers of the first half for Misi Taulapapa, who leaped highest to touch down a chip to the corner. Brambani, yet again, failed with the kick. 14-0 at half time, Eagles always looked comfortable, defence thoroughly on top but attacking ineptness was letting them down, and could have and definitely should have been more in front.
Whatever Anthony Murray said to his troops at half time had the desired effect when Jono Smith crashed over on the blind side, three minutes after the restart. A slice of fortune occurred at the start of the set as from the GLDO kick, the Crusaders player who gathered the ball clearly knocked on but Kendall waved away the Sheffield claims. Johnson didn’t convert Smith’s try and the latter was soon to be his own team’s villain.
Smith, for what seemed like the millionth time, bounced off a Sheffield tackle and offloaded, only this time his speculator went to Loto Tagaloa who had a 90m run to the try line. The USA international going over for the first time in some time, the centre has been out of favour at the steel city club as of late. Brambani converted from under the sticks and 20-4 was the score to the hosts.
QLT then joined the Sheffield scoring party with a great burst after a Stringer offload and the Samoan used his speed to perfection as he rounded Johnson for a great individual try. Conversion missed but Crusaders recovered well, scoring the last two tries of the game, both coming from big men in the bustling Crusaders pack.
Sebastian Martins (featured as a player to watch in my preview) buried his way over the line after running onto a Hudson pass from acting half. Johnson converted, as well as the last try by Jono Smith who busted through two wannabe tacklers to score and seal the bonus point for the North Wales side.
24-16 being the full time score, a very lacklustre second half from the Eagles, more so the last twenty than the first twenty, but they did enough in the first half to get over the line. Anthony Murray and his Crusaders will be very happy to go back to Wrexham with a bonus point, something that looked out of reach with ten to go.
Sheffield XIII – Laulu-Togagae; Turner, Yere, Straugheir, Taulapapa; Walker, Brambani; Battye, Henderson, Stringer; Knowles, Hope; Briggs.
Interchange – Davey, Tagaloa, Lillycrop, Aspinall.
Crusaders XIII – Johnson; Birkett, Roets, Reardon, Wilde; Ashall, Dalimore; Walker, Hudson, Martins; Davidson, Bannister; Adamson.
Interchange – Smith, Duffy, Reid, Thornely