BRADFORD BULLS may yet regain Super League status for next year, but their near-neighbours Halifax can already reflect on a season of real progress.
Despite finishing fourth in the Championship, a place lower than last season, Halifax have impressed during a Qualifiers campaign which included a victory over Championship winners Leigh Centurions and ended with a huge success against Bradford, their first win at Odsal since 1999.
Saturday’s 52-18 result, which came after they trailed 18-16 at half-time, secured sixth place in the Qualifiers table and £780,000 in funding, £280,000 more than seventh-placed Sheffield Eagles.
“That is probably the main benefit for us,” Halifax’s coach of the year Richard Marshall reflected after his team’s closing win. “We’re not in the financial league of Leigh or Bradford, so that’s a bonus.
“But regardless of that, to finish the season in that style and fashion was outstanding. A lot of teams would struggle to hold the boys when they’re playing in that fashion. It was an outstanding performance in the second half. To not concede in the second half, against a full-time team with lots to play for, was very good. We looked fit, strong and skilful and we defended our line very well.”
With a trip to Wakefield in Saturday’s million pound match looming, Bradford coach James Lowes rested nine of the players who had beaten Leigh a week earlier.
Injured captain Chev Walker, who will retire following this weekend’s game, was sent to face the media afterwards and admitted Bradford’s performance was “unacceptable”.
He said: “It was really poor, there was a lack of effort, which is really out of character for us. We were off, not together, which is a bit scary leading into the million pound game. We have got this week to get it right and I’m confident we can turn it around.”
Full-back Ryan Shaw, who is being linked with a move to Hull KR for next season, was recalled in place of Jake Mullaney and scored 14 of Bradford’s points, from two tries and three goals.
He was one of the few Bradford players who could hold his head up afterwards, though Lee Gaskell’s return from injury was a positive. There were few signs of the collapse to come in an even first period.
Matty Ryan, the Australian forward signed in mid-season from Wakefield, opened the scoring after just two minutes, stretching over from James Mendeika’s pass, but back-to-back tries nudged the visitors ahead.
Former Castleford stand-off Ben Johnston was an impressive presence for Halifax and his pass created their first try for Ste Tyrer, who converted and then touched down moments later, from Scott Murrell’s cross kick.
Mendeika’s kick was well taken by Shaw for a converted try which levelled matters; then James Clare cut through the middle and Shaw was in support on his left shoulder to cross for his second try.
Halifax responded on the stroke of half-time through Dane Manning, after an excellent build-up involving Johnston, but Tyrer’s conversion bounced out off a post, which proved the difference between the sides at the break.
When Ryan Maneely was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle at the start of the second half, Bradford could have taken control, but instead they fell apart.
Saxton’s second try edged Halifax back in front on 50 minutes and when Tyrer went over for his second, eight minutes later, the dam burst.
Halifax, playing an exciting brand of expansive rugby, cut Bradford’s defence to pieces to run in five tries in the final quarter. Johnston scored two tries in as many minutes, both excellent efforts and then big front-rower Adam Tangata dummied over, before Ben Heaton finished off Jake Eccleston’s break and Tyrer – who ended with six conversions – completed his hat-trick after the hooter.
Bradford Bulls: Shaw, Caro, Henry, Blythe, Clare, Mendeika, Siejka, Clough, Halafihi, Lauaki, Mellor, Ryan, Pitts. Substitutes: Gaskell, Fleming, Baile, Crossley.
Halifax: Saltonstall, Eccleston, Heaton, Tyrer, Saxton, Johnston, Murrell, Calhane, Kaye, Ambler, Tangata, Manning, Fairbank. Substitutes: Spencer, Moore, Maneely, Wood.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).