Bradford Bulls 10 Warrington Wolves 23: Battling Bulls give fans hope of bright future

Keith Lulia off-loads in the tackle. Photo: Dave Williams
Keith Lulia off-loads in the tackle. Photo: Dave Williams
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A THIRD successive home loss would ordinarily leave irate supporters up in arms.

However, Bradford Bulls fans will be as cheerful as they have been for some time this morning following the manner of this promising performance.

There will be no wild cries of reaching Grand Finals. Those supporters are gradually starting to understand it may be some time before their once trophy-laden club can challenge the big guns for silverware again.

However, all they ask is their players show maximum effort, determination and drive and, if they do, there will be few complaints.

The Bulls squad, to a man, did that on Saturday evening and were perhaps unlucky not to topple unbeaten Super League leaders Warrington Wolves.

There was none of the meek surrender shown in previous home losses versus Catalan and Wigan – St Helens are the next visitors to Odsal to underline the brutality of their fixture list – and with 18-year-old second-row John Bateman giving another accomplished display, Jamie Langley offering his usual robust energy and Ben Jeffries probing away, there were plenty of positives.

Indeed, if they can repeat this sort of display at Hull KR on Saturday night, they should record a third consecutive away win and demonstrate their potential for a more attainable goal; reaching the play-offs for the first time in four years.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, half-back Jeffries said: “We’re disappointed not to get the two points – we were unlucky with a couple of first-half decisions – but know if we put that performance in every week we’ll win more than we lose.

“We had so much ball on their line and have just got to be more clinical.

“Warrington took their chances but we struggled to make the most of ours.

“We needed to straighten things back up a bit instead of going cross field so much but we took Warrington to the wire.”

For periods in the second half, especially, the hosts were camped on Warrington’s line but were too one-dimensional and lacked the necessary craft and subtly to prize open a revered defence.

However, their opponents should have been down to 12 men after centre Chris Bridge, who began his career at Odsal, blatantly planted a forearm into Jeffries’s face as the 31-year-old lay prone on the ground.

That ugly incident occurred in the 54th minute when the pressing Bulls were trailing just 16-6.

It is hard not to conclude a dismissal would have resulted in a home win as Warrington’s defence is so well organised but it was a real talking point afterwards.

Jeffries refused to be drawn on the foul which was met with just a penalty – “what’s on the field, stays on the field” – but you would expect Bridge to face tomorrow’s RFL disciplinary.

Bradford had conceded 122 points against Tony Smith’s men in just two meetings last year but here showed they had clearly learned from those morale-zapping experiences.

Producing far more urgency, passion and steel, they met Warrington’s ruggedness head on.

As Jeffries alluded to, they were unlucky to be 10-6 behind at the break with Jarrod Sammut and Michael Platt each having efforts ruled out by video referee Ben Thaler.

Platt was particularly unfortunate, his foot deemed to have slipped into touch by the smallest of margins after collecting Elliot Kear’s quality knock down off another testing kick by Jeffries.

Matt Diskin had burrowed over inside five minutes to give Mick Potter’s side the lead, Lee Briers having missed touch with a Warrington penalty, and Sammut converted.

The visitors struggled to find their usual fluency and, with talisman Briers going off injured, there was genuine hope of a shock result.

Warrington clearly missed the influence of absent England back-row Ben Westwood and Australian hooker Michael Monaghan, which will worry them ahead of Friday’s trip to Leeds.

But they benefited from another touch of good luck when officials missed Brett Hodgson’s clearly forward pass to Chris Riley for the winger’s 19th-minute try.

The hosts, without prop Nick Scruton after his partner gave birth to their first child, enjoyed plenty more pressure with debutant NRL front-row Manase Manuokafoa making a decent impact.

However, that dearth of creativity near the line hurt them and their opponents escaped with Mickey Higham sliding over with just seconds remaining of the first half.

Bridge converted after Hodgson had also departed injured but Briers returned and Warrington extended their lead within two minutes of the restart.

Another England centre Ryan Atkins, who started out at Bradford but never played a Super League game, raced 90m for his 100th career try after Sammut’s kick was charged down.

Bridge made it 16-6 before converting Trent Waterhouse’s try on the hour mark.

Bradford’s efforts were eventually rewarded with Jason Crookes’s 67th-minute try, Bateman – likened to a young Andy Farrell – adding a quality assist but Briers had to settle Warrington with a drop-goal, a real sign of how the title favourites had been tested.

Bradford: Kearney; Kear, Platt, Lulia, Crookes; Sammut, Jeffries; Kopczak, Diskin, Hargreaves, Whitehead, Bateman, Langley. Substitutes: L’Estrange, Burgess, Joseph, Manuokafoa.

Warrington: Hodgson; Riley, Bridge, Atkins, J Monaghan; Briers, Myler; Morley, Higham, Wood, Waterhouse, Blythe, Cooper. Substitutes: Ratchford, Carvell, Hill, McCarthy.

Referee: T Alibert (Toulouse).