North Wales Crusaders’ new-look squad showed further signs of progression as they pushed a full-strength Widnes Vikings outfit, packed with former Super League stars, all the way for large periods of the match.  

After falling 14-0 behind inside the opening 12 minutes, Crusaders fought back admirably and were arguably the better side for the remainder of the half, reducing the deficit to 14-10 by half-time.

North Wales continued to ask questions of their hosts but, as the game wore on, Widnes’ quality began to show and a couple of late tries put the game beyond any doubt.

Widnes opened the scoring on five minutes when Danny Craven broke through Crusaders’ defence line down the left flank and had the pace to finish in the corner.

Within a couple of minutes, they built on their lead as former North Wales captain Kenny Baker broke a tackle down the right and reached out to dot the ball down on the line.

The visitors were struggling to cope with the Vikings’ speed and the Championship side soon added their third of the afternoon, with Craven supplying a nice short pass for Sam Wilde to die over next to the posts.

Crusaders could have easily rolled over at this point, but their response was impressive and they pulled one back through Dave Eccleston, who touched down in the corner after a nice left to right shift.

After forcing a goal-line drop-out, North Wales reduced the deficit to four points when another smart shift play allowed Rob Massam to die over in the left corner.

In the early stages of the second half, Jack Johnson extended Widnes’ lead to eight points as he took advantage of a break on halfway to cross down the left.

After Craven thought he’d gone over for a brace of tries, only to be ruled offside, Johnson added his second when he dived over in the corner.

Johnson then completed his hat-trick, scooting over from acting half, before Baker added another as he collected a sneaky grubber kick to dot the ball down underneath the sticks.

But it was Crusaders who had the last word, with Gav Rodden intercepting a Widnes attack to race 90 metres upfield.

VIKINGS
1 Jack Ownes
2 Jack Johnson
4 Lloyd Roby
3 Jake Spedding
5 Deon Cross
17 Matty Smith
6 Danny Craven
8 Jay Chapelhow
9 Logan Tomkins
10 Ted Chapelhow
12 Sam Wilde
15 Kenny Baker
13 MacGraff Leuluai
Subs:
25 Joe Edge
16 Owen Farnworth
19 Connor Dwyer
7 Joe Lyons
14 Pat Moran
23 Jacob Dugdale

Tries: Craven (5), Baker (8, 73), Wilde (12), Johnson (43, 57, 70)
Goals: Owens 3/6, Smith 0/1

CRUSADERS
1 Tommy Johnson
2 Dave Eccleston
3 Jordan Penny
4 Earl Hurst
5 Rob Massam
7 Jordy Gibson
6 Elliott Jenkins
8 Warren Thompson
9 Steve Roper
10 Brad Brennan
12 Kieran Sherratt
11 Gav Rodden
13 Chris Barratt
Subs:
Brad Billsborough
Matt Reid
Ryan Millington
James Tilley
14 Jack Holmes
17 Jack Cottington
16 Jordan Olmez
Joey Brady

Tries: Eccleston (21), Massam (36), Rodden (80)
Goals: Johnson 2/3

Referee: C Smith
HT: 14-10
Attendance: 1,217
MOTM: Gav Rodden – on only his second appearance since stepping up from the amateur game, Rodden got through plenty of work in the forwards and deserved his breakaway try late on.