Bulldogs’ Matthew Cross takes it up another level with Blackburn Hawks debut

IN THE THICK OF IT: Matthew Cross (centre) attempts to thwart a Solway Sharks attack during last Sunday’s game. Picture courtesy of Blackburn Hawks.

UP-AND-COMING Bradford Bulldogs defenceman Matthew Cross says he is even more motivated to succeed in the game after a successful third-tier debut for Blackburn Hawks.

The 17-year-old has enjoyed a promising campaign with the Under-18s, his potential recognised by head coach Andy Brown who has also given him a taste of senior hockey in NIHL North Two.

He has made 11 senior appearances this season, posting a goal and an assist in that time.

The Hawks – with who he has been training most of the season – had tried to get the youngster onto their bench a few weeks ago but now, with both the Bulldogs Senior and Under-18 teams having both completed their seasons, he was finally given the green light to make the step up to NIHL North One.

It was a good day to make the switch, the Hawks getting a 1,000-plus crowd for their encounter at home to Solway Sharks – their final game of the regular season.

And even though the result didn’t go the way of the home side – they let a 6-2 lead slip in the final period to eventually lose 7-6 – it was a memorable day for the Bulldogs’ youngster, his experience no doubt helped by having fellow Bulldogs D-man Alex Lutwyche in the locker room alongside him. 

His move up was the latest in a number of such developments by Bulldogs’ players this season. Forward Matthew Barlow has played on a two-way with NIHL One team Widnes Wild most of the season, while only last week Matthew’s fellow Under-18s player, Damarni James, answered a late SOS call from Leeds Knights to fill out their roster for their final weekend of the regular NIHL National season, impressing against Basingstoke Bison and Sheffield Steeldogs.

Matthew Cross (centre) made a good first impression when making his NIHL North One debut with Blackburn Hawks last weekend. Picture courtesy of John Stoves.

This weekend, Bulldogs’ netminder Phil Pearson is stepping up as back-up for Manchester Storm in the Elite League.

“When I was told I could play and the signing had gone through, I was really excited,” said Matthew. “I was determined to show I deserved to be there and when I found out I was on the first line unit, I just thought there’s a job to be done so I just went out there and did it to the best of my ability.

“Being in front of the big crowd was great, too. It was loud, it was exciting, the fans were really behind the team.” 

Matthew ended the game on +2 for the night having been put out as part of the top defensive pairing and was rewarded for his efforts with the MVP award.

“It was obviously a step up from junior hockey,” he added. “But training and playing with the seniors at Bradford, being a prospect with Sheffield Steeldogs since 14 and training with the Hawks since September has definitely been great preparation.

END GAME: Matthew Cross pictured after Blackburn’s 7-6 loss against Solway Sharks. Picture courtesy of Blackburn Hawks.

“The speed and intensity was no surprise and it’s definitely given me a taste for next season. I’ve always wanted to play professionally and this has given me a taste of what that could be like, so I’m even more motivated to progress.

“Saturday was a coming together of everything I’ve done so far and I’m really excited to see what the future might hold.” 

Blackburn co-owner Graham Lomax said the whole organisation had been impressed with how their latest two-way signing had performed.

“He was put out on the starting line for us and played a blinder – rightly winning MVP,” he said on the club’s Facebook page afterwards.

“To be able to play in front of a crowd that size must have been nerve-wracking, even more so when young screaming girls all wanted his autograph later. Well played young man, well played.”