THE fans duly turned up in their droves and the inspired players held their side of the bargain, too, as crisis-torn Bradford Bulls enjoyed a famous win last night,
Late tries, fittingly from their longest-serving player Jamie Langley and the excellent Ben Jeffries, saw Bradford rack up their first win at Odsal over champions Leeds Rhinos in three years.
The hope now is it will not be the final game of any kind at the evocative old stadium.
A huge crowd of 20,821, many of whom had pledged money towards the club’s bid to raise £500,000 to stave off administration, arrived to generate a crackling atmosphere, further intensified when Bulls’ Bryn Hargreaves was red-carded in the 78th minute for a high tackle on Jamie Peacock.
But, by then, the valiant hosts had caused enough damage, sending misfiring Leeds to a third successive defeat.
Bradford will make an announcement at 11.30am today to reveal whether receipts from last night’s bumper crowd have seen them pass that half-million pound mark.
It may well only keep the tax man and bank manager at bay a little longer and insiders fear the club might yet fall into administration within the next fortnight, but hopefully with new owners ready to step in.
It must also be hoped that the players who battled so hard last night, many of whom have pledged themselves, will get paid this month. They will find out on Wednesday,
Bradford chairman Peter Hood used his programme notes to highlight the fact that the Bulls are one of the few clubs likely to actually post a profit this year in a league where so many are “technically insolvent, in some cases to the tune of multiple millions”.
He continued: “Unless something changes it won’t be long before at least one Super League club is technically insolvent for more than £10m.”
The comments may seem a little rich given Bradford’s current plight and perhaps were an attempt to deflect some criticism.
But, Hood is not without his allies at the end of a week in which a leaked letter from Hull KR’s Neil Hudgell to his fellow Super League chairman declared the game was essentially “bankrupt.”
St Helens counterpart Eamonn McManus went further still in his programme notes yesterday, apparently suggesting there needs to be changes at the top of the Rugby Football League to prevent further mayhem. “There is no doubt that Super League cannot sustain 14 clubs – how can it when two have gone into administration in the last year and another is on the verge?” he wrote.
“We need transparency, honesty, bravery and decisiveness to admit where mistakes have been made and to remedy them forthwith. We need leadership, decisive action and a game which is governed and structured in a way that brings commercial stability to all and an investment case for all.”
On the pitch, without ever exploding, the first half was still an absorbing affair last night, Leeds centre Zak Hardaker’s 14th-minute try, which Kevin Sinfield, failed to convert, the only difference between the sides.
Bradford could so easily have fallen adrift after that setback – the returning Brent Webb producing a sharp pass to give Hardaker just enough room to stretch over – but showed plenty of spirit to keep their opponents guessing.
A series of varied kicks, mainly from the inventive Ben Jeffries, had the champions scrambling on numerous occasions and with a little more luck may have profited with a score.
Brett Delaney plucked one reverse chip out of the rain to deny Brett Kearney, Ben Jones-Bishop made a hash of another under pressure from Sean Ainscough to concede a scrum before backtracking Ryan Hall did brilliantly to somehow defuse a lofted kick down the opposite flank.
There was ample industry from the Bradford forwards who, with Manase Manuokafoa offering real presence, largely kept their rivals in check.
When they did make the sort of elementary error that sometimes plagues them – Heath L’Estrange fumbling when playing the ball 10m from his own line – Leeds failed to capitalise, youngster Stevie Ward doing likewise after trying to sycthe through from the scrum.
However, the hosts were soon grateful that Jones-Bishop ignored Sinfield’s support following a rare line break.
Hall’s fine tackle held up Elliott Whitehead off another slick pass by Jeffries before Phil Joseph thought he had clawed his way over only to see referee Ben Thaler harshly rule Olivier Elima’s pass forward.
French captain Elima was sin-binned on the hour mark as, following another debatable decision, his frustrations with Thaler reached fever pitch.
An incident involving Joseph and Leeds prop Darrell Griffin was also put on report as Bulls continued to waste chances.
Another seemed to have gone when Ainscough raced clear only to be grounded by Webb and Sinfield,.
However, after the ball was moved right, Langley latched onto L’Estrange’s grubber and Jarrod Sammut converted to send fans delirious.
Then Jeffries confirmed victory in the 73rd minute after scrambling over, Sammut’s second conversion the finishing touch.
Bradford: Kearney; Pryce, Purtell, Lulia, Ainscough; Sammut, Jeffries; Manuokafoa, Diskin, Hargreaves, Elima, Whitehead, Langley. Substitutes: L’Estrange, Burgess, Joseph, Addy.
Leeds: Webb; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall; Sinfield, Ward; Griffin, McShane, Peacock, Clarkson, Delaney, Ablett. Substitutes: Bailey, Kirke, Leuluai, Smith.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).