Gateshead Thunder20 North Wales Crusaders 24
Gateshead Thunder took second-placed North Wales Crusaders all the way at South Shields – and a narrow four-point defeat was tough on Kevin Neighbour's rejuvenated side.
Thunder were unable to complete a quickfire Welsh double after edging out South Wales Scorpions last weekend in the Principality, but they gave title-chasing Crusaders a mighty scare.
In the end the rattled visitors scraped home courtesy of Dave McConnell’s late try. But while the points headed back to Wales, it was Gateshead who took the plaudits.
Thunder put in a commendable defensive effort and were unlucky to be trailing by four points at the interval.
The home side were the first to strike when Omari Caro took Rob Masson’s misplaced pass to race clear from the Thunder 20-metre line for a fine interception try.
North Wales were back on level terms eight minutes later when full-back Tommy Johnson converted his own try, but they were never able to build up a head of steam.
A resilient and determined Gateshead got into Crusaders’ faces, denied them space and forced the error, with the Welshmen unable to get into their stride.
Crusaders, however, were back in front through Jamie Durbin’s close- range try, with Benn Hardcastle’s late penalty making it 8-12 at the break.
Thunder maintained their high standards after the restart and were in front again when Paul Stamp capitalised on another misplaced pass, this time in the Crusaders corner. Crusaders centre Leon Brennan crossed on the left as the lead changed hands again, but a spirited Gateshead refused to accept their fate and opened up a two-point lead in the final quarter.
Hooker Ricky Hough darted over from dummy half with Benn Hardcastle adding the conversion, but it was North Wales who came up with the decisive try.
McConnell went low to crash through a number of players to snatch a late victory, but defeat was harsh on a gutsy Gateshead who had given their all in an absorbing game.
Gateshead Thunder: L Hardcastle, Johnson, Blades, Heil, Caro, Stamp, B.Hardcastle, Payne, Hough, Fewlass, Stewart, Ollett, Griffin.
Subs: Cockburn, Ruff, Krebs, Welton.
Referee: Dave Sharpe (Wigan).