THE signs are clearly there, then, that Bradford Bulls can avoid relegation after all.
The players certainly think so given a rendition of We are staying up echoed around the bowels of their famous old stadium yesterday after a potentially crucial win over troubled rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
It may only be their second victory in 12 Super League games but, after scrum-half Luke Gale guided them home with a mature display, it could be a truly significant one.
Bradford are now just six points adrift of Wakefield, the side who currently occupy the much-coveted 12th place position that signifies safety, and their appeal against a six-point deduction for entering administration will be heard on Wednesday.
If they gain even two back from that, which is likely, then suddenly there is even greater hope.
Bradford are, in fact, already in a better position than Wigan Warriors were back in 2006 who completed a famous ‘Great Escape’ against the odds.
Back then, they had won just two of their first 16 league matches and were eight points adrift of safety with, like Bradford now, a dozen games to go.
Wigan, of course, went on a memorable run that profited 10 victories and, despite being docked two points for salary cap breaches the previous year, actually finished eighth.
The only difference is, after bringing in Bradford coach Brian Noble to ignite them, they had a world record £450,000 fee to splash on his former club’s Great Britain prop Stuart Fielden and cash for other signings, too, to bolster their famous recovery. It remains to be seen if this Bradford regime have anything near such a luxury. Indeed, owner Marc Green said in his programme notes there would be no “buy at any cost” policy as the battle for safety intensifies.
However, if the current players repeat yesterday’s efforts, especially their first half returns, on a consistent basis, they have every chance of achieving their aim regardless of what happens this week.
Strengthened by the return of five players from injury – Matt Diskin, Matty Blythe, Jamal Fakir, Dale Ferguson and Chev Walker – after the previous week’s debacle loss at Catalan, they were 16-0 up inside just half an hour.
Wakefield coach Richard Agar, who dropped half-backs Paul Sykes and Harry Siejka, saw Matty Wildie held up early on but then it was all Bradford.
They got the all-important first try after Wakefield conceded a penalty when in possession, Blythe making the initial inroads zigzagging his way infield before a couple of smart off-loads allowed Gale to fling out a long pass to the unmarked Adrian Purtell.
Gale improved and, though Jarrod Sanmut’s restart was allowed to bounce dead, Wakefield erred themselves to waste an immediate chance to strike back.
Ex-Bradford prop Richard Moore was soon penalised for stripping possession from Blythe and the hosts crossed again.
Gale, once more, was instrumental with his perfectly-timed short pass sending Tom Olbison gliding through untouched for another converted score.
Wakefield did not help themselves; Paul McShane’s pass in a good attacking position hit Moore in the face and then another handling error from Danny Washbrook gifted position for Bradford’s next try.
Typically it was Gale to the fore again as his subtle handling saw him link with Olbison who, though denied by Richard Mathers’s tackle, still managed to find Purtell for the Australian centre’s second, his ninth of the season.
Sammut’s chip and re-gather should have offered Wakefield a way back but Danny Kirmond knocked on with the line begging.
The visitors did finally find some cohesion early in the second half, though, to see Mathers put Matt Ryan stretching over down the right, Sammut converting, but they were soon down to 12 men after Moore was sin-binned for fighting after an altercation with Elliot Kear. It was strange, however, that no Bradford player was yellow-carded too.
But Wakefield dealt with that blow well and only conceded a Gale penalty during Moore’s absence before growing further into the game as their opponents got a little edgy still only leading 18-6.
Indeed, Agar’s side thought they had narrowed that deficit further around the hour mark when Mathers dummied his way over but referee Richard Silverwood viewed there had been a prior obstruction by Lee Gilmour.
The decision infuriated Wakefield’s coach who insisted there had been no infringement whatsoever but Gale added another penalty and Ryan’s second try three minutes before full-time, again improved by Sammut, was too little too late.
Bradford Bulls: Gaskell; Kear, Blythe, Purtell, George; Addy, Gale; Manuokafoa, Diskin, Kaufusi, Olbison, Pitts, Walker. Substitutes: Sidlow, Ferguson, Donaldson, Fakir.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Mathers; Owen, Ryan, Walshaw, Riley; Sammut, Godinet; Anderson, Wildie, Scruton, Smith, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: McShane, Moore, Gilmour, Molloy.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).