Plenty of positives for Lowes but defeat sends Bradford Bulls closer to the drop (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Plenty of positives for Jimmy Lowes but defeat sends Bradford Bulls closer to the drop
Bradford Bulls 30, Catalan Dragons 32
A lost cause was something that Jimmy Lowes did not recognise as a player.
After this defeat, though, the predicament in which the Bulls find themselves will stretch even their new head coach's famous powers of resilience.
They lie 11 points from Super League safety with only eight games remaining after a match they should really have won.
The legendary former hooker wanted two things in his first home game in charge: a performance and a victory.
He got the first but not the second as, despite a vastly-improved display which saw the Bulls establish an 18-12 interval lead, extended by six points straight after the restart, Catalan hit back to pilfer the points late on.
Elliott Whitehead, Bradford born and bred, scored with three minutes remaining to level the scores at 30-30 and Sam Williams' conversion did the rest.
It felt cruel on Lowes and his players but the standing ovation they were afforded at the final whistle by the home faithful said much.
If the Bulls go down, and it would take a minor miracle to avoid the drop, they will go down fighting.
Lowes has already stamped his mark on the club, not only on the training field and with his team selection but changing the home dugout to the one nearest the Coral Stand.
Few can forget Lowes' talismanic influence in the all-conquering Bradford side of the not-too-distant past, intimidating and inspiring in equal measure.
That he has transmitted that same desire to his new team was clear for all to see during the opening 40 minutes yesterday.
"I want to see a bit more urgency," Lowes had said in the build-up to the match.
The message was heeded.
Buoyed by the inclusion of debutant Danny Williams on the right wing following his arrival from Salford on a one-month loan, the Bulls began with aggression and purpose.
Eyebrows were raised by Lowes omitting three of his wingers in Jamie Foster and Luke George but particularly Elliot Kear.
Williams started on the right flank with Matty Blythe, a centre or back-rower, again lining up on the left.
The pace and precision of their passing, not to mention their physicality, was much improved from some of the sorry displays of recent weeks.
When the Bulls led in the seventh minute, it was no more than they deserved.
After Catalan were penalised for stripping possession from Adam Henry 20 metres out, the Bulls worked the ball across the face of the Dragons' defence, culminating in Diskin, Gale and Gaskell combining to send Tom Olbison crashing over the line.
Catalan, notoriously sluggish away from home but bolstered by the inclusion of four ex-Bulls in Leon Pryce, Whitehead, Ian Henderson and Olivier Elima, gradually woke up and scored a fine try in the 12th minute.
Second-rower Zeb Taia broke the Bulls' line inside the left channel and showed intelligence to offload to the supporting Morgan Escare, who scampered clear to score.
Sam Williams converted and the Dragons soon went close again when Daryl Millard embarked on a lung-bursting run from deep inside his own half, outpacing James Donaldson and Kearney on the left flank.
As Millard attempted to offload to the supporting Escare, debutant Williams did just enough to force Millard to make a forward pass and prevent a certain try.
It was excellent work by the on-loan winger, who looks certain to join the club permanently next season, but the introduction of former Catalan prop Jamal Fakir gave Bradford an increased physicality.
He took his chance with aplomb and appeared willing to run through brick walls against the club who showed him the door in March.
In the 23rd minute, the Bulls scored an exhilarating try when Williams broke through the middle and expertly offloaded out of a tackle to Henry, who showed outstanding speed to race 50 metres on a diagonal run into the left corner.
Gale could not convert but, in the 26th minute, Fakir bulldozed his way over the line from close range and Gale's boot made it 16-6.
It was impressive stuff from Lowes' men – but they switched off six minutes before half-time when centre Vincent Duport skipped past Henry to score from 20 metres out.
Williams' second conversion cut the Bulls' lead to four points but Gale landed a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Catalan were caught not square at the play-the-ball.
That made it 18-12 at the break, a lead which was increased little more than 60 seconds after the restart as Gale's inventiveness saw him chip the ball forward and then race forward to ground it himself.
His conversion gave the Bulls a little breathing space at 24-12 but Catalan, inspired by the probing of Eloi Pelissier off the bench, came back strongly.
They scored in the 48th minute when a piece of sheer class from Whitehead inside the right channel saw him shrug off three Bulls defenders before sending Ben Pomeroy over in the corner.
It was classic Whitehead, who rightly earned the applause of his team-mates, and Williams' third conversion made it 24-18.
Seven minutes later, Catalan were level as replacement prop Julian Bousquet emerged from a thicket of players to barrel his way over the line.
With Fakir then conceding a soft penalty with 12 minutes remaining, Catalan unsurprisingly opted to go for goal and Williams' conversion saw the Dragons lead 26-24.
It also put them ahead for the first time in the game.
Yet the Bulls produced the perfect response to falling behind by scoring what looked like a match-winning try in the 70th minute when Gale burst through to score and then converted.
Still Catalan were not finished as Whitehead illustrated his eye for a try by touching down a high kick with three minutes remaining, with Williams converting.
Game over, if not quite season over, but certainly plenty of encouraging signs for Lowes to build on.