North Wales Crusaders’ push for the play-offs came to an end as they lost 46-22 at high-flying Newcastle Thunder.
The home side played some delightful rugby league throughout and the likes of Lewis Young, Nick Newman, Matty Wright and Kieran Gill were all too hot to handle for Crusaders at times.
Thunder managed to find plenty of holes in North Wales’ defence and, whenever they made initial breaks, their backs had far too much pace for the visitors’ defensive line and scored a number of impressive tries.
But Crusaders, who were without a number of first team regular and had to shuffle players around to play out of position, competed for large parts and were good value for their 22 points.
The north-east side opened the scoring when Kieran Gill managed to squeeze his way over in the left corner.
It didn’t take them long to build on their lead as Quentin Laula-Togagae stepped the line and finished underneath the sticks.
However, Crusaders responded through Matt Reid, who hit a great line to break through Newcastle’s defence and touch down.
But Thunder soon restored their ten-point lead as Young attacked the right flank, knocked off a couple of tackles and put Matthew Wright over.
Although Laula-Togagae supported another Young break to add his second, Crusaders pulled one back shortly before half-time, with Rob Massam forcing his way over in the left corner.
Wright added his second early in the second-half, collecting Newman’s pass to cut inside and dive over.
Gill then completed his brace as he broke down the left and fended off a number of attempted tackles for a superb solo effort.
At this stage, Crusaders were visibly beginning to tire and Newcastle took advantage, with Muizz Mustapha powering over from close range.
North Wales went close to grabbing their third of the afternoon, but the hosts knocked down Elliott Jenkins’ attempted pass to Simon Atherton with the line begging.
And Thunder took advantage as Wright forced his way over down the left to grab his hat-trick.
There was still time for one more Newcastle score, with Evan Simons profiting from an excellent offload in the tackle to cross untouched.
But North Wales had the last word with two late tries.
Dec Gregory came up with an outstanding bullet pass at acting half to put Stephen Wild over from close range.
On the full-time hooter, Gregory produced another piece of magic as he looped a pass to the blind side on the last tackle, leaving Massam to grab his second in the left corner.
1 Lewis Young
5 Alex Clegg
4 Kieran Gill
2 Matty Wright
19 Misi Taulapapa
6 Quentin Laula-Togagae
7 Nick Newman
8 Sam Luckley
9 Aaron Ollett
10 Jack Aldous
12 Connor Fitzsimmons
18 Rhys Clarke
13 Joel Edwards
14 Evan Simons
20 Muizz Mustapha
3 Ollie Gowing
16 Alex Rowe
Tries: Gill (6, 50), Laua-Togagae (14, 33), Wright (25, 47, 66), Mustapha (57), Newman (71), Simons (75)
Goals: Clarke 3/6, Wright 0/2, Newman 0/2
1 Elliott Jenkins
2 Dave Eccleston
3 Dante Morley-Samuels
4 Earl Hurst
5 Rob Massam
6 Steve Roper
7 Ben Stead
8 Brad Brennan
9 Dec Gregory
21 James Tilley
11 Matt Reid
12 Simon Atherton
13 Stephen Wild
14 Ryan Smith
10 Warren Thompson
18 Alex Thompson
15 Jordan Penny
Tries: Reid (18), Massam (37, 80), Wild (78)
Goals: Stead 3/4
Referee: John McMullen
MOTM: Dec Gregory – the hooker continued his recent run of form with another sound display, coming up with a couple of moments of quality in attack and scrambling well in defence.