Thatto Heath Crusaders are the 2021 National Conference League champions after beating Wath Brow Hornets 18-10 at Featherstone’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
After a Covid-affected campaign which began with regional divisions to address any potential travel issues, it was the St Helens-based Thatto Heath and Wath Brow of Whitehaven who would reach the Grand Final.
Thatto were looking to add to their two NCL titles, the most recent in 2017, while Wath Brow’s only championship win was in 2012.
And it was the Crusaders who had the edge in an enthralling first half
Jamie Tracey bounced over after 15 minutes, Lews Foster converting, and 6-0 is how it stayed until the stroke of half time.
With the minutes counting down, Lewis Fairhust’s drop goal attempt fell short and a fortunate bounce fell into the path of the chasing Ryan Houghton who strolled over, Foster again goaled for a 12-0 interval lead.
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After the break, Peter Caddy forced his way over wide out to haul the Hornets back into the match at 12-4 down, but Thatto remained undeterred and added to their lead soon after as Tracey rumbled over for his second.
Former England Universities international Fairhurst, who would go on to be named Player of the Match, then booted a penalty goal to put his side 18-4 up.
Though Daniel Burns and Fran King combined for a scintillating 90-metre effort on 78 minutes, King converting to make it 18-10, it wasn’t enough as Thatto held on in the closing stages to secure their third NCL title.
In a bumper day of action there were also wins for West Hull, who were inspired by Jack Lazenby to win 32-6 against Kells in the NCL Shield Final.
And for East Leeds, they claimed the NCL Cup after a hard-fought battle with Clock Face Miners, winning 25-12 in the final game of the day. Easts’ Nathan Conroy proved to be the star of the show.