ANTHONY MURRAY hailed North Wales Crusaders’ fighting spirit despite a 40-22 defeat at Gloucestershire All Golds.

Former Cru coach Murray made the switch to the All Golds last year after accepting the role of assistant to Lee Greenwood.

The fourth meeting of the season between the two saw Crusaders’ Shield aspirations dented, and ended Gloucestershire’s four-game losing streak.

Mike Grady was forced to name a depleted 15-man squad for the game, with the likes of Joe Bate, Dale Bloomfield, Tommy Johnson, Johnny Walker and Simon Atherton all unavailable for selection.

Despite the result, Murray was impressed with his former side.

He said: “To be fair, they came here with a lot of their key players missing from the side. They had just 15 available but for long spells I thought they were right in the game and battled really well.

“Up until the 60-minute mark it was a scrap and it was really tightly-contested. They made it a really tough game and on reflection they were probably in with a chance of taking the win at one point.

“It could easily have been a different game if they'd travelled with their full-strength side, but then again we had beaten them in two of our three fixtures.

“At the end of the day you can only beat what’s put in front of you. I felt we deserved the win in the end. It was a bit nip and tuck at times, but I like to think we’re one of the fitter teams in the division.

“We finished the game strongly which was pleasing. We’ve done it a lot, which shows all the work we did during pre-season is working. I can’t fault the effort and determination that the players have shown.

“It’s another win against a good northern side so we have to be happy.”

Back-to-back losses in the Shield campaign have halted Crusaders’ promising run of form.

The results have left Crusaders trailing League One Shield leaders Hunslet by three points, while second-placed London Skolars have a game in hand over their rivals.

And with just five games remaining,  Murray insists it will be a real battle for anyone to depose the table’s current top two sides.

He added: “I think Hunslet and London have to be favourites going into the final stretch. They’ve shown they can pick up results and are coming into form at the right time.

“Ourselves and North Wales Crusaders have a chance of pushing them all the way, but we’ll both need to be at our best in the remaining games to keep in contention.”