Two late tries from Brenden Santi helped Keighley Cougars edge an enthralling tie with North Wales Crusaders and book a straight shoot-out with Workington Town next weekend for the chance to host the League 1 play-off final.

Crusaders and Keighley highlighted once again why so many people are intrigued by League 1 in 2021, putting on a spectacular show under the lights in Colwyn Bay to reinforce there’s plenty of life in the third tier. 

After the Cougars had established a healthy 14-0 lead in what was a real arm wrestle throughout, North Wales hit back to level the match at 14-14, setting up a grandstand finish.

Despite the home side looking the more likely to kick on with all the momentum in their favour, Keighley showed their big game experience late on and Santi’s two crash over plays saw them through to the next round of the play-offs, with North Wales getting another bite of the cherry at home next weekend.

Crusaders had plenty of early pressure, but they were often guilty of forcing the play and the Cougars took the lead through Jake Webster, who crashed over from close range down the right.

It didn’t take them long to build on their advantage as Scott Murrell drilled a perfectly-weighted grubber kick into the in-goal area, with halfback partner Jack Miller managing to get on the end of it. 

After they were awarded a penalty in a good area of the field, the visitors opted to kick for goal and Miller made it three from three with the boot for a 14-0 advantage.

On the stroke of half-time, however, North Wales took advantage of a lifeline as Brad Billsborough’s grubber kick bounced off the post and the halfback recollected to dive over. 

At the start of the second-half, you could sense that Billsborough’s effort had lifted Crusaders and Tommy Johnson kicked a goal to reduce the deficit to just one converted try.

They were then given another opportunity as Jack Arnold was sent to the sin-bin for a crusher tackle.

North Wales made the most of their man advantage as they shifted the ball to the right flank and Pat Ah Van broke clear to cross in the corner, levelling the game at 14-14.

You could feel the tension in the air so, when Keighley were given a penalty for a ball steal, Miller didn’t pass up the opportunity to put his side 16-14 in front.

It was always going to come down to which side managed the closing stages the better and that happened to be the Yorkshiremen.

With Crusaders under a sustained period of pressure, Santi crashed over from close range twice within the space of four minutes to send the strong Keighley travelling support home very happy. 

CRUSADERS
 1 Tommy Johnson  
15 Pat Ah Van
  4 Dave Eccleston 
  3 Matt Reid
  5 Rob Massam 
  6 Brad Billsborough
  7 Jordy Gibson
10 Warren Thompson 
  9 Karl Ashall
13 Chris Barratt
17 Ben Morris
11 Gav Rodden
12 Alex Eckley
Subs:
18 Jack Houghton
14 Jack Holmes
  8 Callum Hazzard 
16 Brad Brennan

Tries: Billsborough (40), Ah Van (47)
Goals: Johnson 3/3

COUGARS
  1 Quentin Laulu-Togagae
  2 Mo Agoro
  4 Taylor Prell
31 Charlie Graham
22 Alix Stephenson
15 Scott Murrell
  7 Jack Miller
28 Josh Lynam
  9 Kyle Kesik
20 Brenden Santi
  3 Jake Webster
35 Con Mika
19 Billy Gaylor
Subs:
10 Dalton Desmond-Walker
23 Matthew Bailey
27 Jack Arnold
36 James Feather

Tries: Webster (18), Miller (27), Santi (69, 73)
Goals: Jack Miller 6/6
Sin-bin: Arnold (44 – crusher tackle)

Referee: Mike Smaill
HT: 6-14
Crusaders MOTM: Jack Holmes – playing in the unusual position of hooker, he provided his side with real impetus going forward early in the second-half and played a key part in the comeback. 

NWC Rugby League

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