Jets give Rhinos taste of high life

RUGBY LEAGUE: Ipswich gave a polished first half performance against the defending champions only to run out of steam in the second half Rugby League Conference quarter-final play-off.

Rugby League

IPSWICH gave a polished first half performance against the defending champions only to run out of steam in the second half Rugby League Conference quarter-final play-off.

Crawley ran out worthy winners over an understrength Ipswich side and now face Coventry in Saturday`s semi-final on neutral ground at Bedford.

The other semi-final will feature newcomers Teesside against Hemel Hempstead.

There was more than enough good play on Saturday to suggest that a full strength Ipswich side may have been equal to Crawley and the Rhinos will rue the fact that so many first choice players never made it to this final match.

The industrious Mike Reeves (holiday), Joe Francis, Taff Thomas and Stuart Whybrow were all missing,while Paul Roberts, Chikezie Knox-Macaulay and Lee Haylock remained on the injured list, giving Ipswich only two replacements on the bench and a quality gap that they were unable to bridge, save for a dogged display of defiance in the first half.

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Both sides shared the opening exchanges going through the tackle count without threatening.

Jets had to wait until the 8th minute to cross the Ipswich line when Richard Billings collected O`Reilly`s up and under 30 metres out racing clear of the defence to score.

Harry Ackerman and Brendan Cooke both made their presence felt early on with some surging runs in attack while hooker Vaughan Evans ability to get in his opponents faces unsettled Crawley for a while.

Forwards Tom Evans Jones and Shaun Griffin had to form an unlikely partnership in the centres further weakening the pack, but acquitted themselves well throughout the match.

Cooke looks a racing

certainty to be young player of the season when the awards are announced at the club dinner on September 8 while the tireless Andy Windridge, who again topped the tackle count, could be one of the contenders for the senior award.

Some tenacious defence by Ipswich coupled with indecision in the home team ranks meant Crawley did not have all of the play in the first half.

Dave Wattam increased the lead on 20 minutes, running clear from the play at close quarters.

The third and best try of the half came when Wattam sent over a low probing crossfield kick which Ed Dowling gathered off his bootlaces before diving over to give Crawley an 18-0 lead at half time.

Half backs Richard Pollard and Pete Le Marquand urged the players on to even more effort and although up against an expansive side Ipswich continued to compete.

With only two replacements giving little chance for the forwards to regroup Ipswich's defence dropped off allowing Crawley to add five second half tries through Riaan Kruger (2) Kelvin Cartwright (2) and Paul Mysak.

Former Rugby League professional Steve O'Reilly, whose distribution kept the tries coming in the second half, finished with seven conversions and a penalty goal.

Ipswich were finally rewarded when a superb handling move late in the game unlocked a tight defence allowing Benson Ho to touchdown on the right.

At the conclusion of a highly successful season, and with the Conference Leagues set for an overhaul leading to upgradings next year, Eastern Division champions Ipswich have an idea of the standards required should they attain higher status next year.

Rhinos team: Paul Le Marquand Gareth Edwards, Tom Evans Jones, Shaun Griffin,Benson Ho, Pete Le Marquand, Richard Pollard, Andy Wilson,Vaughan Evans, Evan Player, Harry Ackerman, Brendan Cooke, Andy Windridge. Reps Francis Atkins and Adrian Evans.

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