North Wales Crusaders dug deep in the closing stages after losing a 26-0 lead to edge an enthralling encounter with Keighley Cougars in their first home match in front of fans for 497 days.

The Welshmen have waited patiently to have fans at their new home in Colwyn Bay and the near capacity crowd probably couldn’t believe the start their side had made, racing into a 26-0 lead within the opening 23 minutes.

However, Keighley staged quite a staggering comeback late in the first-half and early in the second-half to turn the game on its head, leading 28-26 just before the hour mark.

But North Wales got themselves back in the arm wrestle, completed at 100 per cent in the second-half and clinched an outstanding match of rugby league in the final ten minutes.

Crusaders blitzed Keighley in the opening 23 minutes, scoring five tries and averaging more than a point per minute during that period.

The hosts took the lead when Brad Billsborough drilled a kick into the in-goal area and Phoenix Laulu-Togagae dropped the ball as he carried it out, with North Wales’ halfback picking up the pieces to score.

In their next set, Crusaders added their second as they played expansively deep within their own half, Matt Reid broke down the left and passed to Tommy Johnson, who supplied the final ball to Gav Rodden. 

Johnson then collected a smart offload from Rodden near the line, before Crusaders shifted the ball to the left for Reid to put Rob Massam over in the corner.

North Wales got their fifth when Jordy Gibson’s grubber kick bounced off a Keighley man and Johnson collected to bag his second.

However, two quick-fire tries for the Cougars brought the game back to 26-12 and gave the visitors some real momentum heading into the second-half.

After Charlie Graham squeezed over down the left flank, Aaron Levy pounced on a grubber kick.

Three tries inside the opening 16 minutes after the break swung the match in Keighley’s way and took them into a 28-26 lead.

Scott Murrell chipped a kick over the top on the last and the Yorkshire side regathered for Levy to add his second, before the Cougars’ halfback dummied his way through the line to grab a try himself.

The comeback was completed when Brenden Santi was put over the line from close range. 

But Crusaders managed to turn the screw and two penalty goals in the closing stages nudged them 30-28 ahead.

And Pat Ah Van’s try at the death, profiting from a lovely left to right shift, put the result beyond doubt. 

CRUSADERS

 1 Tommy Johnson
15 Pat Ah Van
14 Jack Holmes
  4 Matt Reid
  5 Rob Massam
  6 Brad Billsborough
  7 Jordy Gibson
12 Alex Eckley
  9 Karl Ashall
10 Warren Thompson
11 Gav Rodden
  3 Ben Morris
13 Chris Barratt
Subs:
18 Brad Calland
16 Ethan O’Hanlon
17 James Thornton
Dante Morley-Samuels

Tries: Billsborough (6), Rodden (9), Johnson (14, 23), Massam (17), Ah Van (78)
Goals: Johnson 5/8

COUGARS

  1 Quentin Laulu Togagae
  2 Mo Agoro
  4 Taylor Prell
31 Charlie Graham
33 Phoenix Laulu Togagae
15 Scott Murrell
  7 Jack Miller
23 Matt Bailey
  9 Kyle Kesik
18 Spencer Darley
13 Aaron Levy
20 Brenden Santi
12 Dan Parker
Subs:
  8 Jack Coventry
11 Jason Muranka
14 Ryan Wright
19 Billy Gaylor

Tries: Graham (36), Levy (40, 42), Murrell (50), Santi (56)
Goals: Miller 4/5

Referee: Mike Smaill
HT: 26-12
Attendance: 437
MOTM: Karl Ashall – playing his 200th career appearance, Crusaders’ hooker was outstanding throughout and came up with some key plays late on.