RUGBY League hit North Wales last night in a blaze of fireworks both on and off the field. A first half try from Great Britain international Gareth Raynor got a capacity crowd to the feet and proved the 13-man code has finally arrived in the region.
Raynor's try in the corner was the first time the crowd stood and proved the game can indeed have a future within North Wales.
The early arm wrestle was being won by the home side with the kicking of Australian import Michael Witt playing a crucial role in pinning defending Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, the fans seemed still unable to understand the gravity of this historic night.
But when Raynor crossed in the corner and the crowd rose, it was proof enough that the Crusaders have finally found a home at Wrexham's Racecourse.
The conditions were making it hard for both sets of players with early knock-ons aplenty and Crusaders were given excellent early field position as an early mistake by Rhinos full-back David Watkins, trying to offload in the tackle, saw the ball spilled.
An ensuing drive saw Leeds guilty of the first penalty after three minutes and Witt made no mistake in the third minute to become the first scorer of any points in the Crusaders' new Wrexham home.
Another penalty, given for offside by referee Ben Thaler, saw Crusaders deep down in the visitors area, and they could have gone further ahead as Vince Mellers was hauled down just short of the line.
Both sides were guilty of missing gilt-edged chances, the first going the way of the home side as Jason Chan put the ball down after Witt made a searing break on the fifth tackle and saw his forwards and backs combine to create space outside for Chan, only to see the wet cold ball slip through his grasp.
And then at the other end, Danny McGuire could not take advantage of a powerful burst from Kylie Leuluai as he uncharacteristically knocked the ball on with support runners either side.
This was proof that Crusaders were capable of holding their own with the defending champions, but all their hard work was undone as a mistake by Great Britain international winger Gareth Raynor allowed Scott Donald to break the Rhinos' duck with the simplest of chances.
Raynor somehow allowed Hall's grubber kick to squirm through his legs with Donald winning the ensuing foot race against covering full-back Nick Younqquest to get the all-important touchdown.
Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield made no mistake with the extras, and was then instrumental as Rhinos threatened to extend their advantage even further.
Jamie Jones Buchanan took a crash ball to the line, but his offload to Rob Burrow hit the deck as the diminutive scrum-half was taken off the ball.
Tempers were starting to boil over in the Crusaders ranks as Leeds began to run the game, but they were soon back on level terms as Mellers climbed highest to take a Witt up and under and his offload was perfect for Raynor to dive over in the corner and make amends for his earlier error.
Luke Dyer was only inches short of putting the home side back into the lead with three minutes of the half left, but was forced into touch by centre Keith Senior after some excellent work Lincoln Withers and Witt.
Leeds pressed for a half-time advantage and had Jones Buchanan not seen a poor pass knocked on they could have forced an overlap on the left.
It would have been harsh on the home side who had certainly not been overawed by their more illustrious visitors. Neither side really started the second half with the same level of fluidity, both seeming as through the half-time hooter had stunned them of any momentum.
Leeds had the first real chance to go ahead as Ali Lauiititi was stopped over the line after a high hanging kick from Burrow which caused havoc in the Crusaders defence.
Again the crowd were starting to become restless as Leeds began to dominate territory and possession, but a bullocking run by Luke Dyer gave the crowd something to cheer about and also relieved any pressure on the home side's line.
It also took an announcement over the public address system to spark any kind of a response from a crowd that was going quiet.
But the noise which then came from the terraces also worked to spur on the Leeds players, who immediately launched an 80-metre attack down field started by McGuire, leading to a drop-out from under the posts.
The noise once again cranked up as a penalty for offside saw the Crusaders kick to the corner when a difficult two points were on offer for Witt. But from the resulting set of six, they tried to move the ball too wide and were forced out of play.
The Crusaders were starting to find a foothold in the game, but Rhinos are not champions for nothing and after a chip ahead was fielded by Watkins who moved the ball wide, McGuire saw a mismatch against prop Ryan O'Hara to dart round him and sprint fully 90 metres to put the Yorkshire side ahead, with Sinfield adding the conversion.
And it got even better for the visitors as Lauiititi took advantage of a mistake in the Crusaders defence to run in a simple try and seemingly put the game to bed with 11 minutes remaining.
Crusaders heads looked to have dropped, and the worry for the home side was that the flood gates could open. It got worse in the dying minutes as Sinfield completed a near perfect return finishing off an excellent move to touchdown in the corner, before adding another conversion with six minutes left.
McGuire came more into the fray and set up centre Brett Delaney to go through, while the final minute saw Lauiititi add the icing on the Rhinos cake with his second try of the game, although he needed the help of video referee Richard Silverwood to complete the rout.
The final score may have looked one-sided and in truth no more than the Rhinos deserved for their clinical edge, but the Crusaders can take heart that, considering this was the first action for a new team, brighter times will lie ahead.
SCORERS: Crusaders 6 Try: Gareth Raynor. Pen: Witt. Leeds Rhinos 34 Tries: Donald, McGuire, Lauiititi 2, Sinfield, Delaney. Con: Kevin Sinfield 5. CRUSADERS: Youngquest, Dyer, Trimarchi, Mellars, Raynor, Witt, Withers, O'Hara, Lee, Bryant, Chan, Peek, Winterstein. Subs: Thackray, James, White, Lupton. LEEDS RHINOS: Watkins, Donald, Delaney, Senior, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Jones Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield. Subs: Lauiititi, Diskin, Eastwood, Kirke.
REFEREE: Ben Thaler (Wakefield). ATT: 10,334.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Vince Mellers - was solid in defence and a willing power runner in the middle of the park.
Gareth Raynor scores Crusaders' only try as they began their Super League campaign last night with a 34-6 defeat to champions Leeds Rhinos at Wrexham's Racecourse, the Welsh side's new North Wales home (left) Crusaders' Frank Winterstein in action at Wrexham's Racecourse last night Action from last night's Crusaders match (above and top right); fans on the way to the game