IT WAS far from pretty – indeed, it was downright ugly – but Bradford Bulls picked up their crucial first win of the season last night.
This being only round two of the First Utility Super League, it seems a little early to be defining any game as so important.
However, bearing in mind Bradford could be deducted up to six points next week for entering administration and were already seen as potential relegation contenders, the value of battling to such a win as this at rivals who are also expected to struggle cannot be underestimated.
But it was a truly dire game. London-based businessman Richard Lamb took to Twitter before kick-off last night to confirm his bid for Bradford had been lodged with the administrator, but you could understand if that was quickly withdrawn again this morning.
At least they won though while Wakefield – for all the enthusiasm of a proper old school prop in Australian Scott Anderson and promptings of Pita Godinet at scrum-half – were at odds with each other consistently.
Bradford, who gave a debut to on-loan Huddersfield Giants prop Anthony Mullally, had problems from the first tackle when Lee Gaskell injured his ankle taking in the ball.
He limped around for a couple of minutes, but the stand-off soon hobbled off to be replaced by Danny Addy and was sent to hospital for scans. How they must have wished then that they still had Jarrod Sammut in their ranks.
They did not, however, as the exciting Australian was sold to Wakefield a week ago and made his debut here.
Even he could not liven this dull fare, though, despite a few flashes in the second period as the hosts briefly got close.
The first half was wretched. Bradford should have done so much more given Robert Hicks seemed willing to hand them penalties at even the merest suggestion of infringing.
But they were sloppy in possession with a succession of wayward passes and, even when Dean Collis was forced into conceding successive drop-outs, there was no incisiveness to make it pay.
They had also been thankful to the officials for their first score after a dubious video referee decision ruled Adrian Purtell had touched down in the 11th minute even though defiant Danny Kirmond seemed to have prevented him doing so.
Wakefield’s chances were limited to a few rare incursions into Bradford’s 22.
However, they did level courtesy of a classy try from Peter Fox, instigated by some welcome brilliance from his centre Collis.
First the Australian stood up fellow countryman Purtell with an elusive sidestep and then he produced a trademark back-handed flick pass to put in Fox.
Paul Sykes failed to convert, though, just as Jamie Foster had done with Bradford’s opener.
As the errors continued from both sides, Luke Gale managed to hold his nerve for just long enough to create Bradford’s second try on 31 minutes, twisting out of a tackle to find Brett Kearney, who darted over from 10m with the Wakefield defence still readjusting.
Foster improved this time but Bradford were sweating again when Kirmond barrelled over.
A little less controversially than the first decision, the video officials this time ruled the ball had landed on Chev Walker’s leg so it remained 10-4 at the interval.
Crucially, perhaps, they scored first in the second period and it came after yet another mistake.
Reece Lyne seemed to have done the hard work when he poked his nose through the Bradford defence when returning a kick, but then the Wakefield winger inexplicably coughed up possession.
Gale latched onto the loose ball, found Adam Henry and – despite Lyne’s best efforts to atone – sent a pass infield which Luke George, debuting in place of the axed Elliot Kear, did well to pick up and go over.
Foster converted but Wakefield responded in the 54th minute.
Addy was put on report for a tackle on his former colleague Sammut, which at first glance looked like a combination of grapple and crusher, and, from the resulting penalty, Godinet fed Ali Lauitiiti, who blasted his way over.
Sammut took over kicking duties and duly converted to make it 16-10 before thinking he had narrowed the deficit further by sliding over from dummy half just after the hour mark. But the video officials correctly spotted that he had fallen short of the line.
Instead, Adam O’Brien, their 20-year-old home-grown hooker, showed him how it is done, exposing some lacklustre Wakefield defence close to the line in the 64th minute. Foster did the rest and Gale made sure with a drop-goal late on.
Although there has been no official comment yet, it seems Bradford will continue under the reign of current chairman Mark Moore and his board of directors, despite a number of expressions of interest to the administrator appointed last month.
Bulls coach Francis Cummins watched his side grind out this win and said: “I’ve talked a lot about the character of the lads here as they’ve been through a lot.
“They made it hard at times but I was proud of what they did (last night). As for the off-the-field stuff, there seems to have been a lot of time-wasters knocking around and only slowing things up.”
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Mathers; Fox, Collis, Ryan, Lyne; Sykes, Godinet; Anderson, McShane, Smith, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: Raleigh, Tautai, Sammut, Walshaw.
Bradford Bulls: Kearney; George, Henry, Purtell, Foster; Gaskell, Gale; Scruton, Diskin, Sidlow, Bridge, Walker, Donaldson. Substitutes: Manuokafoa, O’Brien, Addy, Mullally.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).