Cornwall defeated by Crusaders in historic first match

North Wales Crusaders (34) 62

Cornwall (6) 22

Cornwall began their professional rugby league journey with a defeat at the hands of much-fancied North Wales Crusaders in Colwyn Bay on Saturday, writes Gareth Davies.

However, the scoreline was harsh on the Choughs who had battled back from 30-0 down to trail 38-22 with 12 minutes left at the Eirias Stadium.

In the closing stages, Crusaders, who have already taken to the field six times this season in league and Challenge Cup fixtures, pulled clear of a tiring Cornwall side.

North Wales’ late burst saw the game finish how it started with the hosts in command although the middle period of a real points fest will have given much encouragement to Cornwall chief Neil Kelly. 

On a crisp spring afternoon, it was Crusaders, many pundits’ favourites to win the Betfred League 1 title, who drew first blood. Gav Rodden found space out wide and after he cut a good line from 25 metres out, crossed in the corner. Prolific kicker Tommy Johnson added the extras. 

Pre-game predictions that Cornwall might be in for a tough afternoon then came to roost when North Wales scored two further converted scores. Firstly a set scrum play resulted in Rob Massam registering before Jordy Gibson seemingly put the game to bed with barely 10 minutes elapsed on the watch of merry whistle blower Michael Mannifield.

But despite being in such a position of superiority, North Wales then suffered the first of two bouts of ill-discipline when Callum Wood was sent to the sin-bin for an attempted cannonball tackle on Liam Whitton. 

Although playing with a numerical disadvantage, Rodden added a fourth Crusaders try and Massam turning provider for Johnson saw the hosts 30-0 up and threatening to run riot.

On the half hour mark, Whitton was again involved in another Crusaders yellow card. Words were exchanged between the Cornwall full-back and Hazzard with the latter pressing the self-destruct button as he slapped Whitton across the face.

With a man advantage, again, Cornwall started to show further signs of promise with ball in hand and after the visitors’ forward pack continued to make good ground, Matty Turton made history with the club’s first ever try.

Joe Purcell almost jinked his way to the line on the fourth play and then, after bravely running the ball on the last, Kyle Johns’ outrageous basketball style pass was gathered by Turton who finished well. Johns then kicked a wonderful touchline conversion and Cornwall were up and running.

Joy from the league newcomers was short lived though as Harry Swarbrick made it six of the best for North Wales with another try before the interval hooter. Johnson lost his 100 per cent record from the tee but the hosts led 34-8 at the turnaround.

The second stanza started with North Wales incurring the wrath of the referee for standing in front of the kicker at the restart. The subsequent penalty inspired Cornwall who enjoyed a real purple patch which resulted in three quick-fire tries.

Harry Aaronson was the first Chough to score when he intercepted Jack Houghton’s wayward pass to race 70 metres to finish in trademark swan dive fashion. Then Cornwall scored arguably the try of the game as prop Paul Bolger’s delightful delayed inside pass opened up a game for Liam Whitton to race into.

The former Halifax and Featherstone man outpaced the Crusaders’ rear guard from half way and despite being tackled close to the line, managed to ground the ball. However, whilst scoring, the 20-year-old hit the ground hard and after initial concern from the away medical staff, was able to walk gingerly from the field. Sadly for the Choughs, Whitton was unable to return. 

Nevertheless, losing Whitton didn’t have a detrimental effect on Cornwall’s attacking prowess and they really set North Wales nerves jangling with another try. 

Bolger was involved again and his combination with Aaronson created good field position. Executing another power play, Cornwall scored as a quick play-the-ball from replacement hooker Sam Gilder found Sam Snell who crashed through.

At just two converted scores behind, it was very much game on although home flyer Patrick Ah Van, who played Super League for Bradford and Widnes amongst others, put his side back in the box seat shortly after Cornwall’s points blitz with his side’s seventh try.

The game then became a real War of Attrition with neither side taking a backward step. Both Cornwall skipper Jamie Prisk and Josh Hartshorne were then in the wars and subsequently patched up by overworked club physio Sam Wicketts while Snell was forced off after he suffered a nose injury.

With 15 minutes of an enthralling clash left to play, Massam secured the points for North Wales. Then with the away side tiring, Anthony Murray’s men really turned the screw and scored four further tries.

Reece Briers, son of current Wigan assistant coach Lee, who was present amongst the healthy crowd, bagged a quick-fire brace as scrum-half Brad Billsborough and replacement Jack Holmes completed the scoring.

Looking forward to their next match, Cornwall are back making history this Sunday when they welcome Midlands Hurricanes to the Memorial Ground – 1.00pm. 

North Wales Crusaders: Johnson, Turner, Swarbrick, Ah Van, Massam, Gibson, Billsborough, Barratt, Wood, Hazard, Rodden, Sherratt, Fletcher. Interchange: Briers, Grainey, Houghton, Holmes.

Tries: Rodden (2), Massam (2), Briers (2), Gibson, Swarbrick, Ah Van, Billsborough, Holmes. Goals: Johnson 7/12

Cornwall: Whitton, Aaronson, Snell, Johns, Symons, Turton, Purcell, Mullally, Lloyd, Ray, Hartshorne, Thomson, Prisk. Interchange: Bolger, Trerise, Gilder, Collings. 

Tries: Turton, Aaronson, Whitton, Snell. Goals: Johns 3/4

Referee: Michael Mannifield

Attendance: 590

[Featured image: Patrick Tod / Cornwall RLFC]