A LATE flurry of tries delivered Castleford Tigers an opening day win and rounded off a difficult week for troubled Bradford Bulls.
Amid all the financial issues at Odsal, they had seen leading players Garreth Carvell (Hull FC) and Jarrod Sammut (Wakefield Trinity) leave in the build-up to this game and things could get worse in the week ahead.
Bradford are expected to discover their fate for entering administration either tomorrow or on Wednesday with a four-point deduction the likely punishment.
Of course, that will instantly put them behind everyone else in a season when relegation returns but there was enough evidence yesterday to suggest Francis Cummins’s side will be competitive despite such adversity.
For more than an hour they were in this intriguing, finely-balanced contest and, indeed, it was not until Justin Carney’s 63rd-minute try that Castleford actually took the lead for the first time.
Even then, though, Bradford threatened to gain parity when, with just nine minutes to go, Elliot Kear picked up a loose ball to race 90m and cross.
Unfortunately for the Welsh winger, referee Robert Hicks had rightly spotted a knock-on in the build-up and, typically, from the resulting scrum it was the visitors who produce the coup de grace.
Craig Huby, the long-serving prop whose direct running got Castleford moving after a bitty first half, came up with the incisive pass for Luke Dorn, on his ‘second’ debut with the club, to scamper over and settle it.
When Grant Millington did likewise with the final play, it gave Castleford – who had Kirk Dixon boot his 1,000th club point – a scoreline that certainly flattered.
They had won here 66-10 a fortnight earlier in a friendly that had embarrassed Bradford but, this time, it was a far sterner test.
Coach Daryl Powell, who gave debuts to six players, admitted: “We needed to start the season well and it was a crucial game.
“Everyone expected us to win and probably we did a little bit too much too, if I’m honest.
“We talked a hell of a lot about it but I thought our attitude at the start was off and as a result of that Bradford, as we knew they would, came at us and put us under a lot of pressure.
“I just don’t think we handled that really well in the first 20. It took us 22 minutes to put our foot on the ball and as a result we couldn’t really get into the game.
“Gradually we got back into it and I had been a little bit worried but I knew our big men needed to be a little bit more direct and run with more intent and purpose.
“I thought they did that in the second half and (Daryl) Clark, was sensational, probably the stand-out player.”
The elusive hooker was a constant threat with his probing runs but, as Powell conceded, it had been so different early on.
Adrian Purtell, in particular, was really busy for the hosts, looking to get involved in everything.
The Australian may have been lurking out in the left centre but he seemed to take two drives every set at first, then came up with a 50m intercept and also an impromptu kick and chase which forced a drop-out.
His side had gone ahead through Danny Addy, the versatile Academy product who had such a terrific World Cup with Scotland and operated at second-row here.
He ran a perfect line to hit Lee Gaskell’s smart pass and go over untouched in the fourth minute, a move which will have quickly assuaged fears of Bradford fans worrying they would be lacking a cutting edge following Sammut’s departure on Friday.
Gaskell was possibly recruited as cover as full-back, centre and stand-off for this term but demonstrated enough yesterday to hint he could form a productive half-back partnership with Luke Gale as Sammut’s replacement.
In fact, Cummins later revealed he had planned to start with him all along. Jamie Foster converted and, with Castleford visibly struggling for cohesion early on, his side should really have made more of Purtell’s impressive work.
They did not, however, and that allowed the visitors to grow into the game.
They needed Clark to spark them into life with a 50m midfield break from a quick penalty tap.
Yet resilient Bradford were not breached until the 33rd minute and that was only due to a simple individual miss, Gaskell being eluded by Weller Haurakai’s footwork 20m out to allow the big New Zealand second-row to stride out to the line.
Dixon kicked the first of his six goals to make it 6-6 at the interval but Bradford took the lead three minutes after the restart when Gale’s chip took a wicked bounce to elude Dorn and allow Foster to gather, going over for a try he converted. Then, however, both sides did their best to throw the game away. In the next set, Manase Manuokafoa tried a ludicrous off-load on his own 20m which, inevitably, went to ground.
Liam Finn picked up the pieces and instantly delivered a brilliant long pass to Dixon who dived over in the right corner.
He duly converted, too, but Castleford erred themselves in the restart set and Gale’s high kick saw Purtell rise and score, Foster improving.
In the 62nd minute, and at 18-18, Dixon missed a simple penalty attempt to the left of the posts but his embarrassment was eased moments later when Carney gathered Finn’s pinpoint kick to give the visitors the ascendancy and they did not look back.
Bradford: Kearney; Kear, Henry, Purtell, Foster; Gaskell, Gale; Scruton, Diskin, Sidlow, Olbison, Addy, Donaldson. Substitutes: Walker, Manuokafoa, O’Brien, Bridge.
Castleford: Dorn; Dixon, Channing, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Milner, Mariano, Wheeldon, Fleming.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).