JUST how far Bradford Bulls have fallen over the past decade or so was made abundantly clear as they were embarrassed by Batley Bulldogs at a sparsely populated Odsal yesterday.
The Championship Shield tie was rather like Bradford’s history in the summer era. Following an outstanding start the wheels suddenly came off and they turned into an utter shambles.
From 12-0 down after as many minutes, Batley hit back to lead 26-12 at the interval and by 32 points 12 minutes into the second period.
Bradford are already condemned to relegation and had nothing tangible for which to play, but even so it was a dire performance.
“It was really disappointing,” coach Geoff Toovey conceded. “I think they [the players] let themselves down a bit and we made the players aware of that after the game. It was simple errors and mistakes – not a great display.”
Bradford were Super League champions as recently as 2005 and won the world club title the following year.
Even now, they attract crowds of which Batley could only dream, but while Bradford’s demise has been well publicised, their West Yorkshire neighbours are one of rugby league’s unsung success stories.
After a difficult start, coach Matt Diskin – a former Bradford player – has started to get his message across and they have been in impressive form over the second half of the season.
They are already assured of a place in the Shield semi-finals and their first win at Odsal since 1972 moved them a step closer to a home tie.
“I thought for the first 20 minutes and the last 20 we were scrappy, but in the middle 40 I thought we were really good,” Diskin said.
I thought for the first 20 minutes and the last 20 we were scrappy, but in the middle 40 I thought we were really good.Batley coach, Matt Diskin
“We turned Bradford around and forced them into their own end and played some really clinical stuff with the ball – we were very good near their line.”
Bradford, who had won their two previous games, looked good in the opening exchanges, when they were aided by a flurry of penalties and mistakes from the visitors, though the early loss of Damian Sironen with a neck injury was a blow.
They received the game’s first six penalties, all inside the opening 15 minutes, and Batley were placed on a team warning.
This obviously did the trick as Bulldogs did not offend again before the interval, being awarded five successive penalties and seeing Bradford placed on a warning.
Hooker Sam Hallas opened the scoring in the first minute after Bradford’s kick-off had found touch and then Liam Kirk crashed over and Cory Aston added his second goal.
In between times, Aston – the scrum-half on loan from Leeds Rhinos – had made a stunning tackle to force the ball out of Jason Crookes’s grasp on the line when the centre seemed a certain scorer. But Batley, big second-rower James Harrison in particular, targeted Aston and it was a physical mismatch.
Harrison powered over for a genuine hat-trick, crossing for three successive tries. They sandwiched a brace of close-range touchdowns by Batley’s livewire hooker Alistair Leak.
The visitors’ final two tries of the opening half came after they opted to tap kickable penalties and with Patch Walker landing three conversions the visitors rattled up 26 unanswered points from the 18th to the 37th minutes.
Despite Bradford’s team warning after 37 minutes, referee Straw kept his yellow card in his pocket when they were penalised again four minutes into the second half; Batley again opted for the tap and Brad Day cruised over.
Footwork and a clever dummy carried Dominic Brambani over and then Lee Smith’s pass near his own line found its way to Leak, who completed a deserved hat-trick.
Walker converted all three, making it 44-12. Seasoned Bradford watchers summed it up as possibly the worst 40 minutes in the club’s recent history.
Fortunately for Bradford, Batley became sloppy after that and were unable to break the half-century mark, though Wayne Reittie had a ‘touchdown’ disallowed when Sam Smeaton’s pass was ruled forward.
Bradford squandered a series of opportunities, but completed the scoring in the final minute when Illiess Macani crossed from Cameron Smith’s pass and Aston added the extras.
Bradford Bulls: L Smith, Rickett, Halafihi, Mendeika, Macani, Moore, Aston, Kirk, Hallas, Peltier, C Smith, Bentley, Sironen. Substitutes: Davies, Oledzki, Wilkinson, Pickersgill.
Batley Bulldogs: Scott, Reittie, Smeaton, Crookes, Ainscough, Walker, Brambani, Maher, leak, Lillycrop, Manning, Harrison, Farrell. Substitutes: Southernwood, Gledhill, Rowe, Day.
Referee: C Straw.