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Crusaders coach happy with debut

Danny McGuire tries to break through the Crusaders defence
Danny McGuire tries to break through the Crusaders defence

Celtic Crusaders coach John Dixon says his side's Super League debut was "pretty encouraging" despite going down 28-6 to champions Leeds at Headingley.

The Bridgend club hit back strongly after trailing 22-0 at half-time.

"The scoreline had the potential to skip away from us but it didn't," said Dixon. "That's credit to the players.

"We were a whole lot better in the second half. We gave a decent account of ourselves and we will get better. I thought it was pretty encouraging."

The Crusaders went into the game without any serious match practice after their one and only pre-season friendly was cancelled.

They were due to play Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop, but the game was called off to protect the pitch.

Their preparations were also hit by visa problems, which prevented eight of their players from joining up with the rest of the squad until a few days ago.

It was a good effort by them because they haven't really had a chance to get their cohesion going yet

Leeds coach Brian McClennan on Celtic's performance
They were also hit by the late withdrawal of former Canberra forward Marshall Chalk with flu.

"I was very pleased with the efforts of the players, particularly to share the second half," added Dixon. "They can look each other in the eye and said we had a go."

Leeds coach Brian McClennan was disappointed with his side's failure to capitalise on their impressive start but was full of praise for the Crusaders.

"I thought in the second half they had better structure than us in attack," he said.

"They asked some questions of us and got some repeats sets on us. It was a good effort by them because they haven't really had a chance to get their cohesion going yet.

"If I was Celtic, I wouldn't be too perturbed about losing. I think they will get better as they go along."

Leeds full-back Lee Smith, man of the match in the Rhinos' Grand Final triumph, picked up from where he left off at Old Trafford with a brace of tries.

With wingmen Scott Donald and Ryan Hall also touching down before half-time, the Rhinos looked set for a runaway success but they went into their shell in the second half.

Kevin Sinfield takes on the Crusaders defence
Kevin Sinfield says his side have plenty to work on despite their win

"I should have said nothing at half-time," said McClennan. "To get a crowd of 14,500 in the cold and for groundstaff to get field ready was a big plus.

"I think they performed better than we did. It was a wonderful effort by the groundstaff and supporters.

"We will serve up better next week. In the first 20 minutes everything felt right, but there is not a lot to say about the rest."

Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield admitted his side had been a little rusty.

"We haven't done much ball work together and it showed," he said. "There is loads for us to work on and we got the two points. We're on the ladder and it can only get better.

"We started off OK, but perhaps a bit of fatigue set in, I'm not sure. It was a potential banana skin. Celtic were always going to be fired up and make it difficult for us.

"They played some good stuff but I thought we were pretty poor in the second half."

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see also
Leeds 28-6 Celtic Crusaders
06 Feb 09 |  Rugby League
Harris excited by Welsh Crusaders
04 Feb 09 |  Celtic Crusaders
When two codes collide
05 Feb 09 |  Celtic Crusaders

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