ANTHONY MURRAY believes North Wales Crusaders have laid a foundation to build on when they enter the League One Shield.

Sunday’s 35-30 defeat at Hunslet Hawks meant the Wrexham-based outfit missed out on a Super Eight’s berth, and now drop into the second tier of the division with the top two at the end of the regular season set for a one-off final to decide who lifts the Shield itself.

Finishing 10th, Crusaders will host Coventry Bears, South Wales Scorpions and Gloucestershire All Golds during the second half of the season, with away games at Newcastle Thunder, Oxford and Hemel Stags. The dates of each fixture are to be announced later this week.

“Hunslet are a quality side and I thought they fully deserved the points and deserve their spot in the top eight,” a gracious Murray explained.

“We’ve just missed out and that’s unfortunate but we’ve done very well to just be in with a shout going into the final weekend. If you’d offered me that at the start I’d have snapped your hand off.

“Mistakes crept into our play and it’s frustrating when we’ve put ourselves in winning position over the past two matches to only come away with one point from four.

“But take nothing away from the lads, it’s been a fantastic effort to get ourselves into this position and our displays against the sides who have qualified for the top eight prove the quality we’ve got in our squad. We pushed the best teams in the division all the way and that’s something we can take forward and we must build on that when we begin our Shield matches in a fortnight.”

The defeat at Hunslet featured a number of head coach Murray’s early season signings with the likes of Kenny Baker, Simon Atherton and Billy Brickhill playing a pivotal role during the opening half of the campaign, having made the step up from amateur rugby.

“It’s very rewarding to see the likes of Billy and Kenny performing so well,” added Murray, who was able to include experienced duo Andy Moulsdale and Stephen Wild for a third consecutive game.

“It’s been good to give these lads the opportunity to make a name for themselves and all our new lads have taken their chance with both hands.

“Kenny and Simon are two who deserve a mention, they’ve shown their quality since the start of the season and hopefully can be Crusaders’ players for years to come.”