Catalan Dragons 46, Bradford Bulls 4
Of all the thumping defeats that Bradford have suffered this season, and there have been a few, none felt quite as depressing as this.
Catalan outclassed Francis Cummins’ men comprehensively, running in eight tries to give the Bulls coach plenty to think about.
Owner Marc Green, perched high in the main stand alongside managing director Steve Ferres, also had food for thought.
The Super League club he bought out of administration in March could be a Championship outfit by the end of the season.
That bleak, unthinkable prospect looks increasingly likely at this rate.
The relegation trapdoor is coming into sharp focus and it is hard to see the Bulls escaping without winning back the six points they had docked for entering administration.
That penalty saw a trio of former directors walk away from the club in February, with Mark Moore claiming the punishment made relegation “almost a certainty”.
Moore, Andrew Calvert and Ian Watt attended Saturday’s match in Perpignan and sat next to Green.
It was that kind of day when nothing seemed to make much sense.
Why did Cummins’ players perform so badly in a game that mattered so much?
How could they not rouse themselves when the club’s and, indeed, their own futures are on the line?
This was a huge match for the Bulls against a Catalan side they had beaten in such spirited fashion only last month.
Yet the start they made was, quite frankly, appalling.
Morgan Escare opened the scoring with a stunning second-minute effort, Elliott Whitehead touched down ten minutes later and Michael Oldfield quickly broke the Bradford line all too easily for another long-range score.
It was shocking stuff from the Bulls and the game was effectively over with less than 15 minutes played.
Bar a few notable exceptions, such as Antonio Kaufusi and Manase Manuokafoa, there was little fight from the Bulls and certainly no cohesion.
They were outpaced, outfought and ultimately outclassed by a Catalan side who were superior in every department.
This was as bad as it gets, with Cummins describing the debacle as “embarrassing” afterwards.
The Bradford boss had been let down badly by his players and he was brutally honest in his assessment of their performance.
The manner in which Escare and Oldfield broke clear to score will give Cummins and every Bradford supporter nightmares.
The Bulls were supposed to be far more competitive following the return of Manuokafoa and Kaufusi, along with James Donaldson.
Manuokafoa and Donaldson were back after injury-enforced absences, while Kaufusi returned after being ineligible for the Magic Weekend defeat to Huddersfield.
Kaufusi is an aggressive, old-school prop and is not afraid to mix it but the Bulls’ backline was badly exposed – and none more so than in the second minute, when Escare collected a pass from Zeb Taia around his own 20-metre line.
The diminutive French full back showed blistering speed to gallop past Joe Arundel and leave a clutch of Bradford defenders for dead inside the left channel before racing past Lee Gaskell to score a brilliant individual try.
With the Dragons’ pack generally dominant, Leon Pryce began to see plenty of the ball and he orchestrated several attacks as well as testing Gaskell with some high, probing and wind-assisted kicks.
In the 11th minute, Whitehead gave his old club an unwelcome reminder of his ability to sniff out a try.
A kick was not dealt with by Jamie Foster and Whitehead collected possession before showing impressive strength to hold off Danny Addy and Foster to power over the line.
Whitehead celebrated with gusto after notching his 12th Super League try of the season in only his 11th appearance.
It soon got worse for the Bulls as they conceded again moments later when Oldfield collected possession inside his own half and broke past Addy and Adrian Purtell before scampering clear inside the right channel.
At 18-0 down after just 14 minutes, the Bulls needed to conjure the kind of response which saw them overturn the Dragons’ early 16-0 lead in the Challenge Cup at Odsal last month.
Sadly, they never looked like capable of doing it again on Saturday and so it proved.
Indeed, it was Catalan who continued to look most likely to score and, midway through the first half, Pryce marched past Arundel before finding the impressive Taia in support.
Elliot Kear did well to deny the back-rower but the Bulls barely managed to escape their own half in the opening quarter of the match.
Jordan Baldwinson came on to replace Adam Sidlow and make his debut on the half hour and, as the interval approached, the Bulls began to enjoy their best spell of the game and forced Catalan into three goal-line drop-outs.
But Catalan also went close to a fourth try moments before the break when the elusive Escare threatened to burst over in the right corner after more clever footwork but Kear did well to keep him at bay.
Dragons centre Vincent Duport was then denied a try by the video referee after barrelling through a pack of Bradford players before being penalised for obstruction on Arundel.
Still, an 18-0 interval deficit was bad enough.
The hope was that the Bulls would come out firing in the second half and maybe, just maybe, launch a famous fightback.
Within two minutes of the restart, Escare was again quickest off the mark when he took Ben Pomeroy’s neat short offload to finish off a fine handling sequence which ripped Bradford apart.
Thomas Bosc’s fourth goal made it 24-0 and put paid to any serious hopes that Cummins’ men had of overturning Catalans’ lead.
Dragons replacement Jean-Philippe Baile was then held up over the line but the hosts soon had their fifth try when Mickael Simon went over from close range after more good work by Pryce and Bosc.
With 53 minutes played, the Bulls fashioned a well-worked try which saw Addy, Purtell and Gaskell combine to send Foster diving over in the left corner.
That prompted Bulls chairman Green to punch the air.
But his joy was short-lived as Foster could not convert and the pendulum soon swung back in Catalan’s favour.
Daryl Millard soon scored a sixth home try when he collected a kick to finish clinically in the left corner.
The Dragons were soon camped on the Bulls’ line again and Pryce, who at times looked as if he was playing a training-ground game, went over from close range after taking a short pass from Whitehead.
Whitehead was involved again in his side’s eighth and final try when, after the second-rower’s progress was halted inside the right channel, another kick from Bosc found its way to Taia and he touched down unopposed.
When the final whistle went, it came as a blessed relief for Cummins and his players, who must now claim the two points on offer against Wakefield next Sunday.
Nothing less will do.