THE permutations now are essentially quite simple – if Bradford Bulls win at Leigh Centurions this afternoon they will almost certainly earn a shot in the ‘Million-Pound Match’ to make a return to Super League.
A week ago, most people would have thought that prospect decidedly slim after a deflating 48-4 defeat at Hull KR left their Qualifiers hopes looking perilous.
However, 24 hours later, Leigh – the West Yorkshire club’s biggest rivals in the scramble for a spot in the lucrative fourth versus fifth play-off – endured a shock 34-12 loss at previously winless Halifax.
The surprise result has shaken the Middle 8s to its core and given doddering Bradford, also vanquished 56-12 at home to Widnes Vikings before their KR capitulation, a much-needed reprieve.
Jimmy Lowes’s side entered this penultimate round in fifth spot, level with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in fourth and with Leigh two points behind in sixth but with Centurions boasting a superior points difference to the Bulls.
Nevertheless, Bradford’s destiny is back in their own hands; if they win today and next Sunday’s final fixture with Halifax at Odsal, they are definitely in that shoot-out and just 80 minutes away from the elite.
For Jay Pitts, their former Hull FC back-row who agreed to fall down a level with them after last year’s relegation, there can be no excuses.
Bradford – still the only Championship side to defeat a Super League team in the Qualifiers having beaten Salford Red Devils – were just 12-4 and 14-12 behind at half-time in those respective games against Hull KR and Widnes only to fall away spectacularly in the second periods against their top-flight opponents.
The scale of those implosions had led some to question whether the three-times World Club champions truly desire, or deserve, to be back in Super League in 2016.
But Pitts insisted: “Everybody wants to be in Super League and I don’t want the fans getting the idea that we don’t want it.
“We want it so much, every single person here does. But we can’t keep playing like that; it’s time to grit our teeth and get on with it.
“We’ve got to cut out the errors and stop shooting ourselves in the foot, like we have in the past couple of weeks.
“We can’t crumble after making an error or falling a couple of tries behind. This (Leigh) is now the biggest game of the season by a mile and we need to get our heads straight for it.
“We’ve proved we can do it and I know we haven’t performed in the past couple of weeks.
“Trust me, it’s not a fitness issue because we’re probably the fittest team in the Championship and we work just as hard as any Super League team.
“It’s about getting our heads right during the game and it’s a mental thing more than a physical thing.”
There is, of course, plenty of history between these teams.
On their last visit to Leigh Sports Village, the opening game of the Championship season and their first since relegation, Lowes’s side lost 36-24 in what was a heated affair on and off the field.
Indeed, Leigh owner Derek Beaumont’s bizarre behaviour in the stands led to an RFL charge.
He was barred by Bradford from Odsal when the sides played out a 36-36 draw in July and, typically, Bulls chairman Marc Green has been told he will not be allowed at their rivals’ ground today.
Big-spending Leigh finished top of the Championship, having lost just once all season yet have failed miserably in the Qualifiers winning just once in five games.
Wakefield-born Pitts, 25, is not interested in any such nonsense.
“We have to beat Leigh – it’s as simple as that,” he said. “This is our ‘Grand Final’ now if we want to try and win promotion.
“We needed to cut out the errors and the penalties against Hull KR last week but just didn’t do it again.
“It was the same against Widnes the week before – we dropped the ball, they scored and we lost all momentum.
“We’ve got to find a spark to turn things back in our favour and we’ve got to do it quickly.”
Lowes was left questioning himself after the Rovers debacle but – even without newly-crowned Championship player of the year Lee Gaskell – he and Bradford now have a glorious opportunity to right their wrongs.