THOSE dedicated Castleford supporters who braved the inclement weather to shovel snow off the pitch may now have wished they had just not bothered.
The club had appealed for volunteers to ensure yesterday’s game went ahead but all that occurred was the willing helpers simply cleared the way for an unlikely Bradford win.
Conditions underfoot were understandably atrocious and what emanated was a contest as scruffy and erratic as is imaginable.
However, Bradford’s sheer guts and courage, especially with their heroic line defence, proved the difference as they edged to their first win of the Super League season.
Staying calm when reduced to 12 men just before the hour mark, Heath L’Estrange yellow-carded for a professional foul, their resilience and desperation ensured they protected a narrow lead and it also came on the back of serious injuries to both James Donaldson and Adrian Purtell.
“Today was probably a little bit heavier than last week but the players themselves were determined to have a different outcome,” said Bulls coach Mick Potter.
“They worked their backsides off, especially with the try line defence. I was impressed with our intensity under adversity,” added Potter. “There was no fuss about it; we weren’t blaming anyone and just worked together to get the job done.
“Overall, this was back to winter rugby league and we just handled it a little bit better than them.”
Castleford coach Ian Millward admitted Bradford warranted the points.
“I was worried about our legs going into the game,” he said.
“It was noticeable Salford tired quickly on Friday night and we tried to keep the players light this week but we physically never got a ball session all week and I thought we looked quite rusty in possession.
“We threatened to score quite a few times but just weren’t as clinical as we could be in attack and didn’t stick to our principles.”
Bullied up the middle by Catalan a week earlier, Mick Potter’s side were much tougher this time around yet Castleford will wake this morning wondering just how they did not secure a victory of their own.
Certainly, they will have struggled to comprehend how they were 12-0 down at the break. With a penalty count significantly in their favour and Bradford making a succession of elementary handling errors, they had a welter of possession and territory to utilise.
Unfortunately, they could do little with it while their stoic opponents made the most of what few chances they had.
Bradford’s Elliott Whitehead returned after a five-game ban for biting, the only change to the squad that lost against Catalan, and he almost dived over with his first touch.
The second-row was only denied by Joe Arundel’s crucial tap tackle before Josh Griffin produced a similarly desperate effort to thwart Purtell.
Bradford did penetrate them in the 10th minute when Brett Kearney rose above Richard Owen – the Castleford full-back who endured a shaky opening – to take Luke Gale’s hanging kick and feed Jarrod Sammut.
Gale converted but then the home side dominated as both Bradford’s discipline and control waned.
Regularly caught for laying-on in the tackle and with some slack forward passes coming out of their own territory, they continually encouraged Castleford.
However, for all their sloppiness, Potter’s side did demonstrate real determination and unyielding character to protect that line.
Owen almost escaped but was clawed back, Kearney dragged down Stuart Jones while Jason Crookes somehow scrambled back to deny Rangi Chase after the Man of Steel had skipped through in typical ebullient style.
A grubber from Chase also ricocheted off a post to just elude Adam Milner while Crookes had to swiftly turn and negate a dangerous crossfield kick from the England international which caused similar panic.
Bradford were further grateful when Danny Orr’s offload only managed to find Whitehead’s waiting hands before more structured defence forced an error out of Arundel.
Showing their ruthless side, however, Potter’s men added to their lead when they earned some rare respite from an equally rare penalty of their own.
Jamie Langley’s clever slip pass gave Tom Burgess sight of the line and the towering prop showed great strength to get his arms free and stretch over just before the hooter, Gale tagging on the goal for that 12-0 advantage.
However, Sammut committed the cardinal sin of missing touch with a penalty in the second half and, from that error, Castleford finally posted their first points.
Of course, Chase was to the fore, his delicate lofted pass inviting Owen into the line and he neatly supplied Ryan McGoldrick for Griffin to finish off.
It was the burly winger’s second try in as many games since joining from Wakefield and Dixon improved the 50th-minute score.
Orr and Griffin combined to nudge Crookes into touch from a rare Bulls foray but it was only a precursor to normal service resuming.
Orr broke only to this time see Chev Walker somehow nullify Brett Ferres but the danger had not passed, something L’Estrange realised as he purposefully strayed offside to knock the ball out of Daryl Clark’s grasp earning that yellow card.
With an added man, Ian Millward’s outfit should have capitalised but Griffin could not ground properly after challenging for another kick from Chase and Bradford scrambled once more.
They escaped downfield and won a crucial penalty of their own to relieve the pressure, the otherwise outstanding Castleford prop Jake Emmitt yellow-carded for a professional foul between his own posts. L’Estrange was still off but Gale converted to somehow see Bradford stretch further ahead.
By the time Emmitt returned, though, Bradford had made the Tigers pay further, Sammut’s lovely pass sending Kearney sniping through untouched for Gale to improve.
Castleford won a short re-start and saw Owen finally breach the Bulls’ defence in the final minute, Dixon converting. But their chance had long since gone.
Castleford: Owen; Griffin, McGoldrick, Arundel, Dixon; Chase, Orr; Emmitt, Milner, Walker, Mitchell, Holmes, Jones. Substitutes: Clarke, Ferres, Massey, Nash.
Bradford: Kearney; Crookes, Purtell, Walker, Kear; Sammut, Gale, Kopczak, Diskin, Hargreaves, Sibbit, Whitehead, Langley. Substitutes: Donaldson, Scruton, Burgess, L’Estrange.