Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
A Co-operative National League Two record crowd of 3,441 witnessed a classic game of rugby league as Celtic Crusaders let a 20-point lead and their unbeaten record slip out of their grasp losing 26-34 to a strong Oldham Roughyeds side.
The match, transmitted live on Sky Sports 3 and on BBC radio, celebrated 100 years of rugby league in Wales as Oldham were the first visitors to the Principality back in September 1907 when they recorded a 25-6 win over Merthyr Tydfil.
And they repeated their victory of 100 years ago, albeit with a different score-line, thanks to an astounding second half performance that re-affirmed their aspirations to be promoted back to National League One at the first attempt.
"There's a lot of football to be played from now until the end of the season," said Oldham coach Steve Deakin. "You can't talk about us being promotion certainties yet. Too many things can happen. If we get four or five injuries, all of a sudden we've got a completely different team."
But for now, this Oldham team are doing the business and they were the first to score. Lee Sanderson's kick aimed at Gareth Langley was fumbled behind the Crusaders' back-line giving Oldham the ball back, and they didn't waste the opportunity.
Paul O'Connor and Drew Houston combined well to set up Lucas Onyango who grounded in the corner. Lee Sanderson converted to give the visitors a 6-0 lead on 14 minutes.
Crusaders levelled things four minutes later. From a scrum on Oldham's 10-metre line, Jace Van Dijk did well to glide through and score. Damien Quinn had an easy kick in front of the posts.
They were denied a second when Richard Johnston was held up over the line following fine work from Tony Duggan, Phil Cushion and Van Dijk. But it was Duggan who eventually ran over for the Welsh side for their second after playing a nice one-two with Anthony Blackwood. Quinn converted again.
Oldham fought back with two successive sets of six. They got close to scoring when Neil Roden kicked a grubber and chased it himself but the ball was palmed into touch.
But Crusaders extended their lead on 33 minutes when Blackwood scored in the corner after being set up by Phil Cushion and Quinn forced his way under the posts three minutes before half-time converting his own try to put the interval score on 22-6.
Crusaders scored again six minutes into the second half as Craig Richards ran in his 14th try of the season following excellent work from Terry Martin.
Rob Toshack was carted off injured after being brutally struck by Tony Tonks on an off the ball incident.
Astonishingly Tonks escaped punishment but two players who didn't were Luke Young and Jason Boults who were sinbinned following a scuffle.
This sparked Oldham's comeback as they scored two tries in three minutes - Tonks using his strength again and forcing his way over for the first before Gareth Langley took advantage of a lucky bounce to run 30 metres to the try-line. Sanderson converted both.
Substitute Alex Wilkinson pulled another one back for Oldham after being set up by Roden on 62 minutes to put the Roughyeds to within four points, and they levelled things up four minutes later after Craig Littler pounced on Roden's grubber kick following a Richards error. Langley's goal put them back into the lead.
Crusaders should have regained the lead with ten minutes remaining. Josh Cale did the good work by running half the length of the field. A combination of passes set up Fitzgerald who was stopped short of the line on the final tackle.
They had another opportunity to win five minutes later. Duggan made an excellent run down the centre but Phil Cushion fumbled the pass with the try-line begging.
And Oldham sealed it with two minutes remaining after Wilkinson intercepted some sloppy Crusaders' passing inside their own area to ground.
"We prepared to win this game," commented Deakin. "We seriously felt that if we could get into an arm-wrestle tonight, we could be in with a chance. When we went 26-6 down, that first try back for us was so important and we built from there."
"Credit to Oldham today," said Crusaders' coach John Dixon. "We were in a winning position but they came back. We had chances in the second half. We didn't take them but Oldham took theirs."
Commenting on the National League Two record crowd that beat the 3,224 set by York v Hunslet in 2005, Dixon added: "It's wonderful to see so many people here. Rugby league is growing all the time here and to have the people of South Wales come and support us like today is fantastic. At half-time they were watching a winning team as we were playing really well. We're just disappointed that we didn't finish the job for them. Thanks to everyone who came and come and see us again because we can play good footy as we've proved and will play more again this season."
Celtic Crusaders 28 Tries: Van Dijk (18 ), Duggan (25), Blackwood (33), Quinn (37), Richards (46) Goals: Quinn 3/5
Oldham 36 Tries: Onyango (14), Tonks (53), Langley (55), Wilkinson (62, 77), Littler (66) Goals: Sanderson 3/4, Langley 2/2
CELTIC CRUSADERS 1. Tony Duggan 2. Richard Johnston 3. Anthony Blackwood 4. Mark Dalle Cort 5. Craig Richards 6. Luke Young 7. Jace Van Dijk 8. Josh Cale 9. Rob Toshack 10. Hywel Davies 11. Terry Martin 12. Darren Mapp 13. Damien Quinn Subs: 14. Dean Fitzgerald 15. Jamie I'Anson 16. Chris Beasley 17. Phil Cushion
OLDHAM ROUGHYEDS 1. Paul O'Connor 2. Gareth Langley 3. Craig Littler 4. Drew Houston 5. Lucas Onyango 6. Neil Roden 7. Lee Sanderson 8. Tony Tonks 9. Simeon Hoyle 10. Richard Mervill 11. Geno Costin 12. Ian Hodson 13. Chris Baines Subs: 14. Andy Crabtree 15. Said Tamghart 16. Jason Boults 17. Alex Wilkinson
Gamebreaker: Dean Fitzgerald and Phil Cushions both failed to capitalise on chances to give Crusaders the win. Instead it was left to Alex Wilkinson to seal it for Oldham.
Gamestar: Gareth Langley who marshalled the game down the wing and scored a try to boot.
Half-time: 22-6 Attendance: 3,441 Men of the Match: Crusaders - Van Dijk, Roughyeds - Langley
Penalty Count: 2-4 Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven) Scoring Sequence: 0-6, 6-6, 12-6, 16-6, 22-6, 26-6, 26-12, 26-18, 26-22, 26-28, 26-34.
Weather: A chilly evening. Match Rating: 5/5