IT has taken 1,520 minutes over the course of 19 games and five months but Bradford Bulls have, at last, reached zero points.
When the RFL confirmed in January that the newly-formed club would start on minus 12 after its predecessor entered liquidation, few would believe it would take them quite so long to break-even.
Admittedly, a recent nine-game losing sequence has not aided Geoff Toovey’s side but they finally ended that with a thoroughly professional win over ninth-placed Oldham yesterday, one of the four sides Bradford would have been above if not for that penalty deduction.
It was a much-needed victory – their first since beating Sheffield Eagles 48-16 at Odsal on April 9 – and one that breathes life into their bid to avoid relegation.
Granted, with four games to go until the split and 11 in total, Bradford are still 10 points adrift of safety – fellow strugglers Dewsbury Rams and Swinton Lions both also won yesterday – so it remains a monumental effort for the three-times World Club champions to avoid being dragged into League 1.
However, it is certainly not an impossible task and this success will have lifted them no end.
It was a much-needed victory – their first since beating Sheffield Eagles 48-16 at Odsal on April 9 – and one that breathes life into their bid to avoid relegation.Dave Craven
For all they head to derby rivals Halifax next Sunday, where they have a wretched record of late, and then host leaders Hull KR, they will target fixtures against Batley Bulldogs and Swinton as must-win before the Championship Shield; there they simply have to be almost perfect.
There was fine performances throughout Toovey’s side yesterday, not least from Bradford-born winger Ethan Ryan who, on his return after missing the last two games with an ankle injury, scored four tries including an 18 minute first half hat-trick to ensure the outcome was only ever heading one way.
Scrum-half Joe Keyes led superbly, kicking brilliantly to force three first-half drop-outs that created the pressure to generate a 21-0 interval lead.
Burly prop Ross Peltier brought his usual impact off the bench, too, two-try second-row James Bentley was a force while Oscar Thomas, despite only converting five of their nine tries, was a constant threat from full-back.
Bradford started well and never really looked back, Oldham not scoring until the 68th minute by which point the hosts were already 35-0 ahead.
When Oldham spilled in the eighth minute – that would be a common trait for the visitors who clearly look jaded after losing against Dewsbury on Wednesday night – Bentley utilised the free play by kicking ahead from 40m out for Ryan to race on and gather his first.
Keyes made a scything break soon after to supply Bentley with their second and their opponents, who had already lost key playmaker Scott Leatherbarrow to injury following a crunching Jon Magrin challenge, were in disarray.
That was further illustrated by Dave Hewitt kicking out on the full, gifting Bradford position and possession from which Ryan added his second in the 17th minute, Keyes sucking in defenders before Thomas produced a fine cut-out pass.
Toovey’s side made few errors of their own although Jordan Lilley spilling one of those three drop-outs near halfway was a particularly frustrating one.
That error only slowed their progress, though, and it was not long before Ryan, the popular 21-year-old, celebrated his hat-trick following a smart shortside move, Thomas slotting his second conversion for a 20-0 advantage.
James Mendeika looked certain to add a fifth score after another astute Keyes pass but the centre spilled stretching for the line and was injured in the process, too, having to depart.
On the rare occasion lacklustre Oldham did look to threaten they more often than not coughed up possession before truly endangering Bradford’s line and often under little pressure whatsoever.
Thomas slotted an excellent 45m drop goal with the final play of the half after that third drop-out, perhaps realising the need for as many points as possible given his side’s tendency to fall away after the break.
It was not needed, however; though their opponents showed more urgency at the start of the second period, Ryan still added his fourth from Bentley’s fine offload the first time they really pressed in the 53rd minute.
Next, former Featherstone Rovers centre Mendeika surged clear to send in Ed Chamberlain, the winger on dual-registration from Widnes Vikings.
He returned the favour with a sharp pass out of dummy-half for Mendeika to cross in the 64th minute and Bradford simply did not let up, on-loan Leeds Rhinos half-back Lilley delivering a 40/20 kick.
Eventually, Danny Langtree did respond for Scott Naylor’s side, Hewitt adding another and converting both.
But Bentley powered in for his second and the excellent Chamberlain produced a stunning 70m solo effort from the restart to ensure Toovey’s side fittingly had the last word.
Bradford Bulls: Thomas; Chamberlain, Mendeika, Oakes, Ryan; Lilley, Keyes; Oledzki, Moore, Magrin, Bentley, Smith, Hallas. Substitutes: Peltier, Kirk, Davies, Roche.
Oldham RLFC: Nield; Clay, Wood, Pearce-Paul, Ormsby; Leatherbarrow, Hewitt; Ward, Hughes, Neal, Thompson, Langtree, Spencer. Substitutes: Gee, Adebiyi, Davies, Bent.
Referee: J Roberts (Leeds).