26th April 2009, 18:58
NATIONAL YOUTH LEAGUE FINAL - Leigh Miners Rangers 0 Celtic Crusaders 32
Halton Stadium, Widnes - Sunday 26th April 2009
Celtic Crusaders' under 18s are the Gillette National Youth League Champions after beating last year's winners, Leigh Miners Rangers 32-0 in the Grand Final at Widnes on Sunday.
Rangers were left heartbroken after, having gone through the season and play offs unbeaten, they were put to the sword by the jubilant Crusaders who turned the regular season form book upside down.
A fortnight before, Miners - who have been the standouts throughout 2008/9 - thrashed the side that finished second 52-10, having also won the regular season clash between them 34-12, also in Lancashire.
But come the most important eighty minutes of the campaign, and having rarely been fully pressured throughout the year, Rangers were found wanting.
It was a feeling of déjà vu for the Welshmen, last year's Rugby League Conference National Colts side from Bridgend having followed the same route to glory, in a near identical performance to claim the title.
The winning side
For twenty minutes it was anybody's game but once Celtic had made the breakthrough, momentum was theirs and Rangers found it impossible to cope as the Welsh props bust them up and bossed the middle and they were caught out on the flanks.
The sole score in the early stages was a penalty to Celtic after Chris Bower was caught not square 20 metres out, Alex Webber taking the two points on offer.
Once Crusaders began to dominate territorially, they forced a drop out and from the second tackle; Kyle Blackmore, Steve Williams and Alex Herbert swept the ball wide for the irrepressible Webber to post the first try.
The Welsh winger also bagged the only other points of the first half when Rangers were penalised for a high tackle in the 33rd minute, making it 8-0 at the break.
Two minutes into the second half, Anthony Symmonds' superb cut out pass sent Dan Godwin scuttling round to the posts, Webber converting and he was then on hand for the game breaking score, racing on to Dafydd Carter long kick after the bounce took it away from Darryl Flannery.
Webber missed the conversion to his own try but kicked a penalty in the 53rd minute after Blackmore broke clear and had the ball stripped from him ten metres out in front of the posts, as the cover defence frantically chased him down.
From the re-start, Hywel Lloyd split the cover and this time Blackmore was unstoppable as he loomed up in support on the inside, Webber converting.
Five minutes from time Webber completed a magnificent individual performance when he went over for his hat trick try, cutting in to score at the left of the posts after good work from Kristian Hawkes and Mark Wool, his conversion seeing him end with 24 of his side's points.
Crusader's Head Coach Stuart Williams was understandably delighted by his side's efforts. "It was an outstanding, committed performance by our lads today" he commented.
"The work we have put in over the last couple of months has paid off and it all came together today".
"It took a big effort to beat this Leigh team after they had defeated us twice earlier in the season."
Rangers were their own worst enemies at times, especially in the first half when a series of needless penalties and dropped ball gave Celtic the territorial edge on which to build their momentum.
A fine try saving tackle by Matthew Rozman on Nathan Davies with the score still at 14-0 six minutes into the second half gave them some hope and, even after they had slipped a further try behind, they butchered their best chance when the ball was worked out to the left by Peter Jameson, Antony Nicholson and Adam Clay only for Josh Hurst to knock on five metres out.
It was that sort of day for the losers.
Crusaders' Head of Youth Performance Andy Lindley said: "This was a fantastic result for us, especially as we beat a Leigh side that hadn't lost in over a year. We dominated the game from start to finish and were the better side at every level today. We're delighted to have won the title as it was the result of a long season where we've worked extremely hard.
"We've replicated the Colts' honour from last year. They were in their first season, just like we are this year, and were awesome when they beat Bramley in that final. I didn't think that we'd match that today but credit to our boys and with no disrespect to last year's Colts, I think we excelled them.
"We're building nicely as a club now. Our foundation academy (under 16s) played their first game yesterday and that's the level that the under 18s were at this time last year. The future looks bright for us and today's result proves it."
GAME STAR - 24-point Welsh wonder winger Alex Webber was magnificent; strong with ball in hand, an elusive runner and equally effective in defence.
GAME BREAKER - Alex Webber's second try, on the end of a long kick on the last tackle, came following a period of sustained pressure by Leigh who were looking to get back into game. Rangers' heads went down when they knew they now had to score four tries to turn the game around.
1 Nathan Davies
2 Alex Webber
3 Dalton Grant
4 Alex Herbert
5 Dan Godwin
6 Dafydd Carter
7 Steve Williams
8 Joe Burke
9 Kyle Blackmore
10 Anthony Symmonds
11 Hywel Lloyd
12 Phil Smith
13 Mark Wool
Subs (all used)
14 Chris Davies
15 Nathan Hawkins
16 Josh Davidson
17 Kristian Hawkes
Tries: Webber (18, 44, 65), Godwin (37), Blackmore (54),
Goals: Webber 6
1 Adam Clay
2 Josh Hurst
3 John Pownall
4 Matthew Rozman
5 Darryl Flannery
6 Arron Reeve
7 Shaun Pendlebury
8 Chris Bower
9 Peter Jameson
10 Jason Unsworth
11 Chris Hughes
12 Shaun Marsh
13 Danny Jones
Subs (all used)
14 Chris Slater
15 Sam Shepard
16 Antony Nicholson
17 Todd Appleby
Men of the match: CRUSADERS - Alex Webber RANGERS - Shaun Pendlebury
Half time: 8-0
Referee: Jon Downham