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Rugby league: A Noble effort from Crusaders against Leeds Rhinos in Super League opener

Crusaders 6 Leeds Rhinos 34

BRIAN Noble’s Crusaders can take plenty of positives from their opening-day Super League defeat at home to champions Leeds Rhinos.

The new-look Crusaders made their Racecourse debut in front of a club record 10,334 fans – and despite losing 34-6 against the Yorkshire giants, they went in level at half-time and pushed their rivals all the way until the final 20 minutes.

Conditions weren’t conducive to the freeflowing rugby as a blanket of snow covered the pitch and the temperatures plummeted once more.

Crusaders made a dream start to life in North Wales when they opened the scoring with a Michael Witt penalty after Leeds were punished for offside.

But the two-time world champions hit back to go in front when Scott Donald’s try was converted.

Gareth Raynor brought the hosts level before the break and Crusaders held their own until fitness proved decisive in the final quarter.

Danny McGuire, Ali Lauitiiti (2), Kevin Sinfield and Brett Delaney all crossed the whitewash after the hour mark as the champions eventually eased to victory.

Coach Noble was pleased with his hastily-arranged side’s efforts, with eight players making their debuts.

“I thought the level of commitment shown by the players was fabulous. We will improve as a team as we add players to it.

"The players should be proud of what they achieved after 65 minutes but Leeds showed us in that last 20 minutes that you've got to play for 80 minutes.

"But there are some exciting things happening here and, if the players keep working hard, they will win a few games this year. All the signs are there."

And Leeds try scorer McGuire also praised Crusaders’ performance.

“They put a big pack out there tonight and our forwards fronted up really well today,” he said.

"It was a tough game, full credit to the Crusaders. Conditions were pretty cold and pretty tough but we showed in the second half what we’re capable of doing.”

Crusaders’ tough start to the season continues on Friday when they travel to take on Wigan Warriors (8pm).