Leeds looked anything but the reigning kings of Super League as they were made to sweat for over an hour by North Wales' new boys in the competition. Playing at Wrexham for the first time – and in front of a five-figure crowd – the 500-1 shots did magnificently to hold the Rhinos until lack of match fitness took its toll in the last 15 minutes.
For a team thrown together at short notice and playing without any proper preparation, Crusaders did remarkably well against the champions in the first half. "The commitment shown by the players was fabulous," said the Crusaders coach Brian Noble. "We fell in a hole at the end but there were good reasons for that. We have been part of an historic event and we can really kick on from here."
Adapting the better to a snow-covered pitch and thriving on playing in front of a bigger crowd than they ever attracted in South Wales, they even had the cheek to take the lead through Michael Witt's third-minute penalty after Leeds had strayed offside.
Leeds seemed to be getting into their stride when they scored just before the midway point in the half, but even that try had a big element of luck about it. Gareth Rayner should have dealt comfortably with Brett Delaney's grubber kick, but let it skid past him for Scott Donald to reach just before it ran dead.
Raynor, playing against his first professional side, had his revenge before the half-hour mark. Witt launched a high kick, Vince Mellars won it and Raynor was on hand to take his pass and go over. Witt could not add the goal, but holding the Rhinos to a draw at half-time was an extraordinary effort.
Leeds were visibly nervous and offering little in the way of attack apart from some hopeful kicking from Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow. On the rare occasions they did string anything together, the choruses of "Bread of Heaven" were there to encourage the Crusaders to keep them out.
They did so until the 65th minute, when Danny McGuire got outside Ryan O'Hara in his own 20 and cruised the remaining 80 metres with deceptive ease.
Almost immediately, Sinfield's kick, McGuire's gather and pass and Ali Lauitiiti's touchdown meant that the dream of an unthinkable opening-day upset was over. Sinfield then scored from Danny Buderus's kick and added his fourth goal to make it look comfortable. To Crusaders' credit, it had been anything but that. Delaney and Lauitiiti each added another as the home side simply ran out of fuel, something for which they could easily be forgiven.
Crusaders: Youngquest; Dyer, Trimarchi, Mellars, Raynor; Witt, Withers; O'Hara, Lee, Bryant, Chan, Peek, Winterstein. Substitutes used: Thackray, James, White, Lupton.
Leeds: Watkins; Donald, Delaney, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Diskin, Eastwood, Kirke.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).Reuse content