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Francis Cummins refuses to pass buck for Bradford Bulls defeat
Bradford Bulls 10, St Helens 36
Amid the vitriol aimed at referee Tim Roby, and there was plenty, came a voice of reason.
It was provided by Francis Cummins, who had just seen his men stuffed by a vibrant St Helens side who were superior in every department.
“There are no excuses and I don’t want us to be blaming anyone else,” said the Bulls coach.
“You’re not always going to get the decisions – the people in our changing room created this today, so they will be the ones who get us out of it as well.”
Roby’s performance certainly riled the home faithful. Ironic cheers greeted his award of the Bulls’ first penalty of the match shortly before the half-hour mark.
“You ask the supporters what they feel,” said Cummins when invited to offer his thoughts on Roby’s display.
“I’m a little bit confused on the ruck area but we’ve got to be better and I’ve told the players that. Our goal-line defence wasn’t good enough.”
Roby was inconsistent with his officiating of the play-the-ball, which led to various ruck speeds throughout the game.
But as Cummins conceded, there was no justification for the way the Bulls surrendered so meekly during the opening 40 minutes.
Saints dominated up front and Jonny Lomax constantly broke forward from full back to support his side’s attacks, scoring twice to help them into a 26-0 interval lead.
The Bulls never recovered.
Lomax later completed his hat-trick, although tries from Brett Kearney and Elliot Kear were just reward for the Bulls’ second-half improvement.
But not even that could disguise the fact that it was an awful day at the office for Cummins and his players.
They started badly and were guilty of some appalling defending during the opening half.
It was all a far cry from this fixture almost 12 months ago, when Jamie Foster was wearing St Helens colours and the Bulls eked out a famous victory.
There was a major positive with the return of James Donaldson for his first Bulls appearance in over a year.
The Cumbrian enjoyed two stints off the bench at loose forward and was instrumental in the hosts’ improved second-half display.
But the opening 40 minutes will give Cummins much to think about ahead of Sunday’s trip to Huddersfield.
Will the Bulls coach persist with Danny Addy alongside Jarrod Sammut or revert to Kearney as one his pivots?
Saints coach Nathan Brown dropped Tommy Makinson and Lee Gaskell, prompting a reshuffle which saw Lomax deputise for the injured Paul Wellens and Jon Wilkin drop into the halves.
It worked a treat.
Saints led inside the third minute when Lomax showed impressive pace and strength to cross the line after Wilkin’s kick had led to a repeat set.
Gary Wheeler missed the conversion but the Bulls steadied themselves and came back strongly, with Matt Diskin, Addy and Sammut combining well inside Saints’ 20-metre line.
The move amounted to nothing and Saints continued to look dangerous, with Wilkin’s clever kicking keeping them on the front foot.
Sure enough, they struck again in the eighth minute.
This time Willie Manu, one of the best back-rowers in Super League, collected a pass 20 metres out and drove at the heart of the Bulls’ defence.
With a combination of searing pace and clever footwork, Manu weaved his way past three Bulls defenders and galloped under the posts.
Not even Kearney could halt Manu’s progress as he powered over for a try which Wheeler could hardly fail to convert.
A 10-0 lead left the Bulls facing a mountainous task and Saints continued to press as they went for the jugular.
After forcing the Bulls to drop out, Saints scored from their next set as a simple pass from James Roby ushered prop Anthony Laffranchi over from close range.
Heath L’Estrange replaced Diskin moments later but Saints continued to dominate as Sia Soliola almost burrowed over in the right corner.
Moments later Lomax showed delightful footwork to glide his way through a clutch of statuesque home defenders to score his second try from Wilkin’s pass.
The Bulls barely escaped their own half during the opening half hour and respite finally arrived when they were awarded a penalty.
The right channel offered the Bulls their most promising source of joy and twice they fashioned decent moves in quick succession.
Both opportunities came to nothing and Matty Blythe was left holding his head in his hands after he tried to find Elliot Kear with the line at his mercy.
Cummins said: “He was three or four metres away from the try-line so we just had to remind him that not many people will stop him from there.
“But that’s what it’s all about. Fatigue sometimes can make you make the wrong decision.”
Sammut was close to touching down Langley’s kick but Saints extended their lead to 26-0 by half-time when prop Tony Puletua twisted and turned his way out of a three-man tackle to plant the ball on the line.
The Bulls pulled a try back six minutes into the second half when Blythe carved out an opening for Kearney but the respite was short-lived.
Lomax supported a break down the left by Francis Meli to complete his hat-trick on 69 minutes and Wheeler kicked his fourth goal before Ade Gardner marched clear for the visitors’ seventh try in the right corner.
The Bulls had the final say when Kear grabbed a last-minute try, which Foster converted, but there was no mistaking the improvement that will be needed for Sunday’s showdown at Huddersfield.