NORTH WALES CRUSADERS completed a stunning comeback to send Keighley Cougars crashing out of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup at the Queensway Stadium following a 28-24 victory.
Mike Grady’s side trailed 24-6 at the break, however, an impressive second-half performance saw the Wrexham-based side score 22 unanswered points to book their place in the fourth round.
The visitors started brightly and took just eight minutes to open the scoring as Benn Hardcastle sent Brendon Rawlins over in the corner.
After a slow start the Crusaders responded with 16 minutes on the clock as Steven Roper weaved his way through the Keighley defence to level the score.
However, the visitors responded with two tries in the space of three minutes. The first effort came via Rawlins who carried several members of the Crusaders’ defence over the line as he scored his, and Keighley’s, second of the afternoon.
He was quickly followed over by Josh Tonks who took advantage of a dropped ball from the Crusaders before crossing the line to score.
With three minutes of the first-half remaining, the Cougars further extended their advantage as they offloaded in the tackle to Ritchie Hawkyard who crossed the whitewash to send his side into half-time 24-6 up.
Looking for a response to a poor first-half performance, the Crusaders took just four minutes to open the second-half scoring as Jack Houghton took the ball past the Keighley defence before reaching out to score.
Minutes later the visitors found themselves a man down after Scott Law saw yellow for a professional foul.
Making use of their extra man, the Crusaders continued to reduce the deficit as Simon Atherton dived over beneath the posts, bringing the score to 24-16 in favour of the Cougars.
As the hosts continued to dominate the second-half, Atherton showed his strength as barged his way through the Keighley defence to score his second of the game and bring the Crusaders within four points of the visitors.
Following a long pause in play whilst an injury was dealt with, the Welsh side took the lead for the first time as Atherton completed his hat-trick to give his side a 26-24 advantage.
On the hooter the Crusaders extended their lead as Tommy Johnson successfully kicked a penalty, bringing the final score to 28-24.
North Wales Crusaders will now enter the draw for the fourth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup which will take place at 7pm on Tuesday 27th February live on the BBC Sport website.
Speaking following the game, Crusaders head coach Mike Grady said: “I’m really pleased with the second-half performance and the way we turned the game around.
“We were poor in the first-half, and a few words had to be said at half-time, but when we came back out we showed just what we are capable of.
“It was a tough test but one which we’ve managed to come through, I’m delighted to get the win and to progress in the Challenge Cup, but our attention now turns back to the league and to Workington Town who we face next weekend.”
North Wales Crusaders:
1. Tommy Johnson
2. Danny Price
12. Simon Atherton
3. Callan Beckett
24. Gavin Conroy
6. Steven Roper
29. Billy Sheen
16. Alex Davidson
9. Lee Hudson
8. Jonny Walker
11. Jack Houghton
25. Jordan Case
13. Ryan Millington
15. Joe Bate
19. Aaron Moore
22. Brad Brennan
26. Alex Trumper
Tries: Roper (17), Houghton (50), Atherton (55, 67, 71)
Goals: Johnson (4/5)
Penalty: Johnson (1/1)
1. Ritchie Hawkyard
28. Harry Aaronson
3. Hamish Barnes
4. Adam Ryder
2. Andy Gabriel
23. Benn Hardcastle
7. Matty Beharrell
27. Samir Tahraoui
9. Nathan Conroy
19. Matthew Bailey
12. Brendon Rawlins
18. Josh Tonks
13. Mike Emmett
8. Scott Law
15. Ryan Wright
16. Harvey Hallas
29. Brad Nicholson
Tries: Rawlins (8, 23), Tonks (26), Hawkyard (37)
Goals: Hardcastle (4/4)
Referee: J. Jones
Man Of The Match: Simon Atherton