FOUR points back, just two more to go and, so, palpable relief all around.
At the end of yet another tumultuous week, spirited Bradford Bulls delivered the win they so desperately needed yesterday.
Deducted six points on Tuesday when they also saw their prospective owners walk out to leave them in jeopardy yet again, Bradford also witnessed one of their leading players – Nick Scruton – sold to Wakefield Trinity by the administrator just 24 hours before this crucial game against London Broncos.
All things considered, then, it was a notable success as, on the back of another gutsy win at Wakefield, they fought their way up to minus two points at the foot of the Super League table.
A third successive triumph at Hull on Friday could see them, after just four rounds, already draw parity with London, Wakefield and Catalan; maybe relegation is not the “certainty” departing chairman Mark Moore had opined after all.
However, it was nowhere near as easy as many expected nor as comfortable as the final scoreline suggests.
London, not averse to financial chaos themselves and widely tipped to finish in one of the two relegation spots, dominated for the majority of the contest and were not beaten until Luke Gale’s 75th-minute drop goal.
Anyone who feels this patched-together side – who also lost four players to injury during the 80 minutes yesterday – are guaranteed for the drop may want to reconsider; London showed enough organisation and desire here to suggest they will be competitive with Super League’s lesser sides.
Indeed, if their NRL half-backs Ben Farrar and Josh Drinkwater – who only arrived in the country last week – had more than their couple of training sessions together, then they may have had the greater creativity required to break down Bradford’s defence.
That said, the indefatigable hosts, with homegrown products James Donaldson and Tom Olbison offering so much energy in their pack alongside Huddersfield Giants loanee Anthony Mullally, did defend like their lives depended on it and continually re-emerged to offer resistance.
Good fortune has been hard to come by of late for them, but a bizarre incident yesterday – at a crucial point – offered some hope their luck may be turning.
With just a couple of minutes left in the first half, Scott Moore dinked a hopeful grubber through midfield, the London hooker delighted to then see Bradford full-back Brett Kearney slip and miss the ball entirely.
It even bounced up perfectly for the ex-England rake to presumably stroll untouched 15m to the line. However, Moore – for some reason known only to himself -– tried putting some footwork on, too, only to stumble himself and be collared inches from the line.
It was a comedy moment and a bit of light relief for everyone, London aside.
That meant Bradford went in 12-6 ahead despite having hardly any possession in their opponents’ half.
In fact, it was not until as late as the 24th minute that Francis Cummins saw his side actually play the ball in London’s 20.
However, soon after, Adam Sidlow bludgeoned his way over from short range after a classic play from hooker Matt Diskin and, with Jamie Foster’s second conversion, it meant they were somehow 12-0 up.
In a classic smash-and-grab style, they had escaped from deep in the 10th minute, Adrian Purtell – the Australian centre who has started this season with real vigour less than two years since suffering a heart attack – slipping Foster away down the left flank for Gale to support and go over.
London, though, got the least they deserved when scoring quickly after Sidlow’s blow, Moore having more luck with this grubber which sat up perfectly and allowed Thomas Minns, the on-loan Leeds Rhinos centre, to show real pace to beat Kearney to the ball.
Drinkwater curled over the conversion and the second period mirrored the first with Bradford – at times harshly treated by referee Tim Roby – continually on the retreat.
But Donaldson came up with a superb tackle to deny George Griffin as the ex-Hull KR second-row tried to dart over on the last before Olbison smashed the same player again after Drinkwater’s 40/20 set up another opportunity.
Then, just as the Odsal faithful started to grow concerned, Donaldson – the 22-year-old Cumbrian back-row initially signed by Steve McNamara straight out of school – made a surging burst through the middle to put Danny Addy racing between the posts for a crucial try.
Foster did the rest but, in the 66th minute, spilled Moore’s high kick to gift ex-Hull FC youngster James Cunningham a try that Drinkwater was able to convert to bring the margin back to just six points.
Fraught as it was, however, Cummins’s determined side made one more breakaway to allow Gale to drop that goal and then Olbison scrambled over at the death following more good work from the Bradford scrum-half, Foster maintaining his 100 per cent record.
Off the field, administrator David Wilson will continue to talk to interested parties early this week with the hope a deal can be done to take ailing Bradford forward on a long-term basis.
Undoubtedly, the players – who have seen all this before – are certainly doing their bit.
Bradford Bulls: Kearney; George, Henry, Purtell, Foster; Addy, Gale; Manuokafoa, Diskin, Sidlow, Walker, Bridge, Donaldson. Substitutes: Kear, Olbison, O’Brien, Mullally.
London Broncos: Mataitonga; O’Callaghan, Minns, Duckworth, Caton-Brown; Farrar, Drinkwater; Krasniqi, Moore, Slyney, Cook, McMeeken, Foster. Substitutes: Forster, Greenwood, Cunningham, Griffin.
Referee: T Roby (York).