Celtic Crusaders 6 Brisbane Broncos 32: Crusaders' commitment fails to rein in Broncos

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The Broncos limbered up for their World Club Challenge against St Helens next Friday, but their National League Two opponents had nothing to reproach themselves for in front of about 2,000 - the biggest crowd in the club's short history - at Bridgend last night.

The Crusaders competed throughout and were level shortly before half-time, until a star-studded Brisbane side started to click into gear.

"It served its purpose," said the Brisbane captain Darren Lockyer. "We were a bit rusty, so it was better that we got it out of the way tonight."

Considering the vastly different levels at which these two sides play, the Crusaders' did alarmingly well in the first quarter, holding their illustrious visitors scoreless and even threatening to cross the try line themselves on a couple of occasions.

The inevitable began to take shape after 20 minutes when Shane Perry found a gap and Lockyer, who has so often played against more exalted opposition, was there in support to score the Broncos' first try. Far from deflating the Crusaders, that try saw them lift the game and claim a well-deserved equaliser 11 minutes later.

Mark Dalle Cort did the initial damage down the left and one of the side's promising local products, Grant Epton, took his pass on the wing and cut inside to score a try that he is unlikely to forget.

It was three minutes before half-time and the Broncos finally got their noses in front again thanks to a wayward pass scooped up by another of their Australian internationals, Justin Hodges. Michael Ennis' conversion put them six points up at the break, but that represented a remarkable effort by the home side.

The Crusaders' willingness to put their bodies on the line was typified by Tony Duggan's tackle on the rampaging Sam Thaiday at the start of the second half. Unfortunately a Brisbane team who were starting to find their rhythm kept the ball alive for Lockyer to send in Steve Michaels.

Some dazzling handling produced a fourth Broncos try from the Australian Test full-back Karmichael Hunt, as the visitors' quality started to show.

Even then, a sweeping move initiated by Luke Young could have brought a reply, but instead Michaels got his second for the Broncos, thanks to a break by Hodges and a fortunate bounce when he released the ball.

The Crusaders were still working hard but there was nothing they could do about a flowing move that yielded a try for yet another of the Broncos' Test stars, Brent Tate.

"I can't fault their commitment to the task against pretty formidable opposition," said Crusaders' coach, John Dixon, who was once assistant coach at Brisbane. "There were some very positive signs there for us and Brisbane got what they wanted out of it as well."

Celtic Crusaders: Duggan; Epton, Dalle Cort, Blackwood, Richards; Young, Van Dijk; Cale, Budworth, Beam, Wyatt, Mapp, Quinn. Substitutes used: Toshack, Fitzgerald, l'Anson, H Davies, Cushion, Ballard, G Davies, Johnston, Jones, Boothroyd.

Bristol Broncos: Hunt; Boyd, Tate, Hodges, Tupou; Lockyer, Perry; Thaiday, Berrigan, Scivoniceva, Parker, Thorn, Carroll. Substitutes used: Carlaw, Eastwood, Hannant, Ennis, Michaels.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).