Bradford Bulls 38 Castleford Tigers 12: Kearney the hat-trick hero as Bulls lay down Odsal marker

IT IS not yet the fortress it once was but dynamic Bradford Bulls are certainly striving to make Odsal a stronghold again.

Bradford Bulls' Brett Kearney goes over to score a try

They followed up their opening day win here over Wakefield Trinity with another robust showing against Castleford, even if the final scoreline was slightly deceiving given their exhausted opponents were exposed heavily late on while down to 11 men.

The acid test of their growing presence on home soil will come when St Helens arrive on Saturday but, in the meantime, Francis Cummins’s side can be pleased with their encouraging start to the new season, responding well to a disappointing loss at Hull FC.

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Brett Kearney lit this contest up with a hat-trick of tries to take the Australian’s tally to five in three games.

But it was underpinned with some terrific endeavours elsewhere, not least from the revitalised Chev Walker.

He has endured a torrid time with injuries over the last few years, so it was pleasing to see the former Leeds star looking so strong and powerful at loose-forward.

It has been some time since Walker last represented his country – before his move to Bath RU in 2006 – and that is unlikely to change as he approaches his 31st birthday.

The player would settle for getting an uninterrupted run of Super League action after such long periods of misfortune.

Elliott Whitehead is another matter completely. The burgeoning England Knights second-row, 23, has added some extra weapons to his arsenal, proving he is not just a commanding runner but able to offer some insightful creativity.

He linked brilliantly with colleagues here, not least with a deft inside ball as part of an intricate and well-fashioned move which resulted in Matty Blythe giving Bradford a lead they would never surrender in the 55th minute.

England coach Steve McNamara, who handed Whitehead his debut while Odsal chief in 2009, has countless second-row options for the World Cup this autumn but if the Bulls Academy product progresses at his current rate, you could easily envisage him forcing his way in.

“Elliott’s a really fantastic player,” admitted Kearney. “I think he’s going to go a long way in the game.

“Not only does he do what you see but he’s a great talker out there, too, has a real football brain and I think you will see us do a lot more things together because he’s such a thinker and so vocal.”

On the team performance, the ex-Cronulla star continued: “We worked really hard for each other. We’re still off the mark a little. We put Cas under pressure early and should have got over a few more times.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do with our attack; we can put teams to the sword a lot earlier than we are. But we dug in deep and when our opportunities came again at the end – I know they were down to 12 and 11 men – we took them.”

Castleford played their part in an entertaining contest which proved yet another good advert for Super League.

Both teams ran with purpose, showed little fear with the ball in hand, offering adventure and enterprise, while there was plenty of tenacious defence on show.

The visitors were hampered by the loss of loan signing Gareth O’Brien after just three minutes following a heavy, late challenge from prop Nick Scruton.

The Warrington half-back had been drafted in for the suspended Rangi Chase but was soon groggily making his way to the sideline.

He returned early in the second half but, unsurprisingly, never really got to grips with the game.

Yet Ian Millward’s determined outfit were still in the game in the 71st minute, trailing just 20-12 and knowing if they could add to the tries of Jamie Ellis and Kirk Dixon, another triumph was on.

But after Craig Huby dropped a sloppy pass, Bradford countered and Whitehead was held down too long by Justin Carney, who was binned. Ellis was the next to go after a team warning for persistent infringing and Bradford profited through tries from Walker and Kearney, who had opened the scoring in the 14th minute.

When Danny Addy was sin-binned for the hosts on the half-hour, Cummins’s side had actually forged 12-6 ahead through Adam Sidlow’s try and the second of Jamie Foster’s seven kicks.

Back-row Joe Murphy, 20, made his debut for the Bulls, who lost Jamie Langley to a groin injury before Kearney completed his treble in the penultimate minute.

Bradford Bulls: Kearney; Kear, Blythe, Lulia, Foster; Addy, Sammut; Scruton, Diskin, Manuokafoa, Olbison, Whitehead, Walker. Substitutes: L’Estrange, Murphy, Sidlow, Langley.

Castleford Tigers: Tansey; Dixon, Shenton, Webster, Carney; O’Brien, Ellis; Walker, Milner, Huby, Gilmour, Hauraki, Holmes. Substitutes: Clark, Millington, Massey, Thompson.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

Tigers coach Millward is so proud in defeat

A MEASURED Ian Millward was at pains to ensure his Castleford Tigers team earned some respect for their performance at Bradford, writes Dave Craven.

They fell 38-12 but only after conceding a glut of points in the final 10 minutes on Saturday night when, for most of it, they were down to 11 men with Jamie Ellis and Justin Carney sin-binned.

When Castleford stunned Leeds Rhinos with victory the week before, Millward was dismayed that most of the discourse then was about their player Rangi Chase’s high tackle on Zak Hardaker.

“I didn’t think we got a fair run in the press conference the way it was hijacked a little bit about Rangi Chase,” said Millward.

“It was all about Rangi and not about us. I’d like to think today we’d get some acknowledgement we ran Bradford close.

“We worked really hard and showed some backbone.

“I’m not sitting here frustrated; if that was the scoreline because we couldn’t defend then I’m a worried coach but it isn’t the case.”

Millward chose his words carefully when addressing the third-minute incident that saw loanee stand-off Gareth O’Brien – ironically a replacement for Chase – depart injured on his debut after a late challenge from Nick Scruton.

After Catalan prop Julian Bousquet was banned for four games after a late, high tackle on Salford’s Theo Fages, it saw the debate surrounding the shoulder charge resurface.

“I’ve got to watch what I say,” said Millward, after Steve Ganson chose not to make any ruling on the incident.

“My job is to coach the team. I will say this – I did have one of my players taken off after three minutes and if there’s any doubt on that I believe what you should do is put it on report.

“Once a player goes off on report for a head clash it’s a free interchange for me.

“The kid’s really brave. We put him back on later in the second half as we had a lot of tired bodies.

“But bringing him off and putting him back on took two interchanges and that took a lot of wear and tear out of us.

“But I’d just like to say I’m really proud of my team. They showed spirit.”