Bradford Bulls 34 Warrington Wolves 28
The fightback is on. Finally. Officially. Emphatically.
Francis Cummins and his players had waited over two months to savour the taste of a Super League victory.
That had last come at Odsal against London on March 2, but this remarkable success lifted the Bulls above the Broncos and off the bottom of the table.
At the final whistle, supporters celebrated as if Bradford had just reached the Grand Final.
Minutes later, Bulls owner Marc Green hugged and kissed skipper Matt Diskin as he emerged from the dressing room.
The scenes explained much; belief is growing within Cummins’ players, and rightly so.
This was a first win over Warrington in 11 attempts and no more than the Bulls deserved.
It should be noted that it was achieved without over half a dozen key players.
Matty Blythe, Jamal Fakir, Manase Manuokafoa, James Donaldson, Dale Ferguson and Chev Walker all missed out through injury.
Luke George joined them in the stands before kick-off with a rib injury, earning Jamie Foster a late call-up, while Brett Kearney was lost to a suspected broken thumb after 25 minutes.
Cummins named two teenagers on the bench in Alex Mellor and Sam Bates; Mellor had played 80 minutes against Warrington for the Under-19s on Thursday and Bates played his second stint yesterday carrying an injury.
Yet despite everything, the Bulls showed remarkable spirit to dig deep and claim a potentially priceless win.
Nobody impressed more than Lee Gaskell, who oozed class in everything he did and will relish taking on his old club St Helens at Odsal on Sunday.
Wolves coach Tony Smith suggested Cummins’ troops showed greater spirit and desperation for the points than his own team.
That again said much.
New boy Antonio Kaufusi impressed with two hard-working shifts either side of the break and Joe Arundel made a quiet, if assured, debut at right centre.
The Bulls went toe-to-toe with their visitors during a hard-fought opening 40 minutes which saw them lose Kearney to injury, while being outscored by four tries to three.
After a balanced opening, when Adam Henry put in a strong hit on Kevin Penny as the Warrington winger caught Luke Gale’s high bomb, the visitors forged ahead.
It came in the sixth minute when referee Richard Silverwood penalised the Bulls for interference at the play-the-ball, giving Warrington the opportunity to attack their line.
Some neat interplay from Michael Monaghan found Chris Hill and he in turn found former Bulls loanee Ben Evans – who started a Super League game alongside twin brother Rhys for the first time – marauding forward at pace.
Evans’ progress was halted ten metres out but Warrington kept probing and a quick pass from hooker Monaghan ushered prop Anthony England over the line from close range.
Chris Bridge added the extras but the Bulls gradually steadied themselves and fashioned a superb try in the tenth minute as Gaskell’s intelligent pass found Foster lurking on the left touchline.
The winger was ten metres from the line but showed outstanding dexterity to dive forward and ground the ball in the left corner.
That score poured confidence into Cummins’ players and they grabbed a second try in exhilarating fashion in the 16th minute.
Bridge clumsily dropped a pass from Gareth O’Brien on Warrington’s 20-metre line and on-loan Huddersfield prop Kaufusi collected possession and spotted Kearney in support.
The Australian full back showed impressive pace to race fully 60 metres, outstripping both Matty Russell and Penny to cross the line in the left corner.
It was a brilliant individual effort and Foster added the extras to make it 10-6.
Two minutes later, however, Warrington were back in front after the Bulls conceded a drop-out from the restart, which led to Bridge brushing Kearney aside to score from O’Brien’s short pass.
Bridge converted to make it 12-10 to the visitors and five minutes later they conjured a brilliant counter-attacking try.
After Danny Addy’s attempted grubber kick gifted possession to Warrington on their own ten-metre line, the Wolves broke through Michael Monaghan.
He found Ryan Atkins and the former Bulls junior embarked on a searing break before finding Joel Monaghan, who sent Penny haring down the right wing to score.
Bridge’s conversion made it 18-10 and Kearney was lost to injury shortly after, necessitating a switch which saw Addy move to stand-off.
Yet the Bulls’ spirit came to the fore once again on the half hour when Gale expertly engineered the space to send Tom Olbison over the line from close range.
Foster’s goal cut Warrington’s lead to two points but, six minutes before half-time, Bradford’s line was breached for a fourth time.
Again it was all too easy for the visitors as Michael Monaghan found Bridge and his pass sent Joel Monaghan past Foster to score in the right corner.
Bridge could not convert, leaving Warrington with a slender 22-16 interval lead, an advantage which was wiped out seven minutes after the restart.
Gaskell sent a teasing, short grubber kick behind the Bulls’ defence and Purtell arrived like a steam train to touch down for a fine diving finish in front of the Coral Stand.
Foster again proved reliable with the boot to level the scores at 22-22 with over half an hour remaining.
Now this was a test for the Bulls.
If they could come back from 16-0 down to overpower Catalan last weekend, why not Warrington too?
The Wolves, however, had other ideas and largely dominated field possession as the second half progressed.
In the 59th minute, they grabbed their fifth try of the afternoon to edge back in front.
Replacement hooker Micky Higham’s short pass found Russell and the Scotland full back, despite appearing to have made the wrong choice with the direction of his run, held off Gaskell and Gale to squeeze over the line.
Bridge’s conversion made it 28-22 to Warrington and felt like a knife in the side of the Bulls.
Yet the home side, roared on by a vociferous crowd, simply refused to lie down.
With ten minutes remaining, Kear collected a brilliant pass from Gaskell to touch down in clinical fashion in the right corner.
Two minutes later, victory was assured as Addy brilliantly broke Warrington’s line with a superb dummy and showed intelligence to send Purtell galloping over the whitewash.
Gaskell showed his defensive prowess with a fine intervention to denty Higham a try before Foster’s late penalty sealed a famous victory.
Bring on St Helens next Sunday now.