MATCH REPORT – Newcastle 46-22 North Wales Crusaders

Newcastle Thunder took a solid 46-22 in their final home game of the regular Betfred League 1 season, but will be eager to improve their defensive resolve ahead of the promotion play-offs later this month.

Thunder had taken full control of the fixture after an even first half but after running in six tries in a one-way second forty, two sleepy moments in defence allowed the Crusaders a pair of easy scores towards the end of the match.

In terms of Sunday’s result they were immaterial, but in the cut and thrust that is to come as Thunder look to return to the second tier of English rugby league for the first time in ten years, they are errors that the team will not want to repeat.

It was a tricky start for Newcastle as they had to withstand an extended barrage of pressure from the Crusaders, as handling errors and penalties gave North Wales an extended period deep in Thunder’s half.

Strong defensive resolve made sure the host’s line remained uncrossed though and off their first real attack allowed them to take the lead, as Nick Newman put his side on the front foot with a breakthrough the midfield.

Going through the set Kieran Gill forced his way over from close range on the fifth and last tackle as the centre continued his fine vein of try-scoring form.

Keeping the ball alive throughout the tackle count paid dividends again ten minutes later as Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e skipped his way through for a converted try at the end of the set that included some superb interplay between the forwards and individual skills from Matty Wright.

Taking a ten-point lead, Newcastle allowed Crusaders a chance to respond following a fumbled restart and a penalty against Sam Luckley for a late tackle, but hit back almost immediately as Matty Wright finished off a Lewis Young break, with the fullback unselfishly passing back inside for the centre to dot down for a third converted try of the day.

Young was provider again on the cusp of half time as he sprinted clean through a gap in the Crusaders line and laid on the scoring pass for Togage’e before Rob Massam gave North Wales the last say in the half with a flying effort in at the corner.

Coming back out fired up from the half time team talk. Thunder embarked on a largely impressive second half in which Wright and Gill bagged their braces while Muizz Mustapha, Alex Clegg, Newman and Evan Simons also scored.

Wright’s second was the best of the scores from a team perspective, with the Samoan international finishing superb work from Simons and Newman.

Breaking through the line, Simons held himself up in the tackle long enough to affect a superb offload to Newman from where the Aussie half-back ran some intelligent angles to keep the defenders at bay long enough to bring in the onrushing centre.

What that score had in finesse Mustapha’s was equally impressive as a demonstration of raw strength and power as the on-loan Leeds Rhino, who is still only 19, smashed his way through almost half of the Crusaders team on his way to a very popular try.

Following the day’s other results, Thunder now head to Keighley Cougars next Sunday needing a win for themselves and a loss for Oldham against Hunslet in order to secure that coveted second-place spot.

Newcastle Thunder

Lewis Young, Misi Taulapapa, Matty Wright, Kieran Gill, Alex Clegg, Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e, Nick Newman, Sam Luckley, Aaron Ollett, Jack Aldous, Rhys Clarke, Conor Fitzsimmons, Joel Edwards, Evan Simons, Muizz Mustapha, Alex Rowe, Ollie Gowing

Tries: Gill (11, 51) Laulu-Togaga’e (15, 36) Wright (27, 49) Mustapha (59), Clegg (68) Newman (72) Simons (76)

Goals: 3/10

North Wales Crusaders

Elliott Jenkins, David Eccleston, Dante Morley-Samuels, Earl Hurst, Rob Massam, Steve Roper, Ben Stead, Brad Brennan, Declan Gregory, James Tilley, Matthew Reid, Simon Atherton, Stephen Wild, Ryan Smith, Alex Thompson, Warren Thompson, Jordan Penny

Tries: Reid (18), Massam (37, 80) Wild (78)

Goals: Stead 3/4

HT 20-10

Attendance – 883