NORTH WALES CRUSADERS put in a fantastic effort but were narrowly denied League One Cup final glory against Barrow Raiders.
Barrow edged the thrilling showpiece 38-32 right at the death, in a topsy-turvy affair at Bloomfield Road where the lead changed hands of several occasions.
Barrow took an early lead with just three minutes gone. Nathan Mossop drove over the line and managed to ground the ball despite efforts from the Crusaders defence to hold him up.
Minutes later Barrow came close to doubling their lead as a grubber kick rolled into the in goal area, only to roll dead before the chasing Raiders players could get a hand to it. Jack Houghton powered his way over the whitewash from close range to level the scores at 6-6.
With just over 20 minutes gone, Mike Grady’s side took the lead for the first time. As Barrow attacked the Welsh side's line, Dale Bloomfield intercepted a pass before running the length of the field to score, putting Crusaders 12-6 up. However, Barrow hit back. A well worked kick from Dallimore bounced favourably for Luke Cresswell who scored.
Barrow then scored two quick-fire tries. First, Declan Hulme was sent over in the corner, before another chip from Dallimore was collected by Daniel Morrow who crossed to make it 20-12 going into the break.
With the next try vital, it was Crusaders who opened the second-half scoring through Jack Houghton, who was sent through a gap in the Raiders defence from close range.
The Wrexham based side then retook the lead as Callum Mulkeen ran straight through the Barrow defence before crashing over the line to give Cru a four-point advantage.
With 57 minutes on the clock, Ryan Smith crossed the whitewash to further extend the lead.
Shan Toal powered down the wing before scoring in the corner for Barrow and with just over ten minutes remaining, they levelled the scores through Joe Bullock.
After taking the ball, Bullock powered his way through the Crusaders’ defensive line before grounding the ball.
After both sides converted penalties, the scores remained level.
But with three minutes remaining, Barrow dramatically clinched the game as Daniel Morrow charged over the line to score his second of the afternoon, and win the cup for Barrow.
"We're coming out of that final with mixed emotions really,” explained Crusaders’ head coach Grady.
"First of all we're devastated that we came so close to beating one of the best teams in this league. Barrow and ourselves are miles apart in many respects, but you couldn't tell that at all.
"They are one of the biggest teams in the league. They're working with a much bigger budget than ourselves and have lots of quality in a squad that includes some ex-Super League players.
"We pushed them all the way and it was a huge credit to our players in terms of how we performed. We were 10 points ahead at one stage, so to have lost in the manner we did is gutting. But under the circumstances the overwhelming emotion is pride.
"Going into the game injuries were a big concern for ourselves and we've put together a bit of a makeshift squad.
"With respect we've included some players who haven't played regular first team rugby in months.
"But to a man I thought all of my players were excellent and gave a brilliant account of themselves.
"The effort, commitment and passion from ourselves was clear to see and I know we've got that in abundance with this group of players.
"The target now is to take performances like this into all of our league games for the rest of the season.
"Beating the teams in and around us is something we haven't done a lot so far this season, so that's an area we really want to improve in too.
"Mentally I think this experience will help us massively going forward and hopefully it will enable us to push as high up the league as possible."
Barrow: Fieldhouse, Toal, Hulme, Lomax, Cresswell, Dallimore, Charnock, Bullock, Mossop, Wilkes, Morrow, D Toal, Aspinwall; Subs: Abram, Walker, Dureden, Dawson.
Tries: Moss, Cresswell, Hulme, Morrow (2), Bullock, Toal; Goals: Charlock (2/5), Dallimore (2/2); Pen: Dallimore (1/1).
Crusaders: Johnson, Lee, Thompson, Mulkeen, Bloomfield, Hansen, Smith, Walker, Dandy, Davidson, Baker, Houghton, Warburton; Subs: Moore, Price, Unsworth, Turner.
Tries: Houghton, Bloomfield, Hansen, Mulkeen, Smith; Goals: Johnson (5/5); Pen: Johnson (1/1).
Man of the match: Ryan Smith.