Crawley's pace and panache overcomes grit

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The Independent Online

Crawley may not be, as their local evening paper has claimed, the best amateur rugby league side in the country. There are plenty of hard-nuts in the heartlands of the game who would dispute that vigorously.

Crawley may not be, as their local evening paper has claimed, the best amateur rugby league side in the country. There are plenty of hard-nuts in the heartlands of the game who would dispute that vigorously.

What they proved in the Rugby League Conference Grand Final at Coventry on Saturday, though, was that, over the last three years, they have been the best to emerge through the summer competition in development areas that is one of the code's recent success stories. Winners in 1998, runners-up last year, they showed enough of their pace and panache to account for opponents of a very different stamp.

Rotherham Giants were completing their first season in the Conference, but most of their players are honed by experience in the club's winter team in the no-nonsense Pennine League. If Crawley throw the ball around with a south coast joie de vivre, then there is any amount of the northern grit that sustains a team through months of mist, rain and snow in Rotherham's heads-down approach.

There is also a good deal of know-how, in players like the Jackson brothers, both of whom played for York as professionals a couple of years ago. Darryl Jackson is a maggot-breeder by occupation; it is unlikely that Crawley have one of those in their ranks.

It was Crawley's expansive style that set the early pace, with three converted tries giving them an 18-0 lead after 13 minutes. Although Rotherham battled bravely and, considering their mighty bulk, kept going well after that, their captain, Mick Chadwick, admitted: "You just can't give them that sort of start. On the day, it never happened for us."

In their ex-Widnes half-back, Steve O'Reilly, their hooker, Andy Shaw, and Dave Wattam, ending only his second season in the game, the Jets had the outstanding performers. O'Reilly believes that, individually and collectively, they could play with success in the mainstream competitions in the north.

What is beyond dispute is that Crawley are the best team - indeed the only team - in Sussex. "We have been turning away players in droves and we have to expand to accommodate them," said their secretary, Rod Chinn.

Expansion will also be on the minds of the Conference as a whole this winter, but caution is likely to be the watchword. Rotherham, and the Coventry side they beat in their regional final, might have been successful newcomers, but the struggles of others have added to the discrepancy in standards this year.

Crawley Jets: Meredith; Elliott, Billings, Henderson, E Dowling; Kilgannon, O'Reilly; Sparkes, Shaw, Matterface, Fitzgerald, Platt, Wattam. Substitutes used: Dinsdale, R Dowling, Kemp-Gee, Holmes.

Rotherham Giants: Dean Jackson; Jasinski, Colley, Batty, Walker; Weston, Moore; Chadwick, Woolley, Archer, Skidmore, Duckenfield, Darryl Jackson. Substitutes used: Short, Lynch, Scott, Walls.

Referee: R Morris (Blackpool).

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