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Adrian Purtell and John Bateman make positive Bradford Bulls impact
Bradford Bulls 34, Hull KR 12
First, the good news.
The Bulls marched back into third place in the Super League table after outplaying Hull KR during an exhilarating opening 40 minutes.
Bulls coach Francis Cummins called it his side’s most enjoyable win of the season so far, which said much.
Then there was the excellent news, which came in the return of Adrian Purtell – almost ten months after a heart attack put his life in jeopardy.
After 25 minutes of yesterday’s match, the centre was summoned from the interchange bench by Cummins.
Cue an almighty roar and standing ovation from all four sides of the famous old stadium.
Raw emotion was everywhere you looked, not least in the veins of Purtell himself as he stepped onto the field to replace Nick Scruton.
The sight of the 28-year-old Aussie patrolling his customary right-centre berth again was heartening to say the least.
“It felt awesome,” said Purtell with a huge smile after playing the remaining 55 minutes of his side’s fine win.
“By the time I was on the field the boys had really laid the platform, so it was pretty easy to slot into a game like that.
“I’ve been training hard now for the past three months and I’ve always had this goal to get back playing.
“I’m just glad to have got that game out of the way so we can focus on Bradford as a team because we’re playing really well. I want to just put my misfortune ten months ago behind me now.”
Purtell only resumed full contact training last week after coming off medication to thin his blood.
He looked in fine physical condition, although had few opportunities to make many of his trademark marauding runs.
Still, he played his part and lasted the rest of the game without any ill effects.
“I only tackled someone for the first time this week in training, so that was a bit out, but that’s going to come with games,” he said.
The former Penrith man spent Saturday evening watching a couple of movies and then enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Watching him haul hulking Rovers forward Corey Paterson – probably the visitors’ best player – into touch in the closing stages was uplifting to everyone of a Bradford persuasion.
The cheers which greeted it confirmed as much.
There was another huge positive with the return of home-grown John Bateman, who marked his first Super League appearance since last August with a fine try.
The 19-year-old back-rower was set to join up with England elite training squad last night for the final part of their training camp at RAF Cranwell.
The only negatives were the loss of James Donaldson and Keith Lulia, who succumbed to injury during the second half.
Donaldson took a heavy blow to the head and was helped off the field, while Lulia limped off with a dead leg.
Still, a glance at the Super League table this morning provides emphatic proof that the Bulls are moving in the right direction under Cummins’ astute guidance.
Boosted by the return of Bateman and Jamie Foster to the starting line-up, they made a mockery of Rovers’ supposed rich vein of form.
Bradford soon led when Heath L’Estrange and Jarrod Sammut combined to find Lulia and the Cook Islands international promptly ushered Foster over in the left corner.
That early try visibly poured confidence into Cummins’ men and the sight of Scruton marching through the Rovers defence, making at least 30 metres, was a joy to behold.
From that set, the impressive Danny Addy flighted a teasing kick into the right corner which Rovers failed miserably to deal with.
Who was there to scoop up the loose ball and touch down?
Unsurprisingly it was Brett Kearney, who last week cited Billy Slater as his inspiration.
The Melbourne and Australia superstar would certainly be proud of Kearney’s scoring record this season.
Yesterday’s close-range effort was his ninth try from seven games and continued his remarkable record of scoring in every round.
Foster failed to convert either try but the Bulls continued to probe and were generally dominant in possession and territory.
Rovers were horribly out of sorts and were fortunate to escape after Alex Brown inexplicably allowed a high kick from Addy to bounce.
They immediately regrouped and moved upfield to score their first try as Michael Dobson found Greg Eden and his long pass sent David Hodgson plunging over in the left corner.
Elliot Kear was culpable after shooting out of the line and Dobson converted to cut the Bulls’ lead to two points.
With 25 minutes played, Purtell replaced Scruton to a standing ovation.
That prompted a reshuffle which saw Elliott Whitehead pushed further forward and Purtell take up his customary right-centre slot.
Moments later, the Bulls claimed their third try when L’Estrange and Addy combined to find Kearney, whose grubber kick was touched down unopposed by Kear in the right corner.
This time Foster did convert – and the Bulls were soon celebrating a fourth try.
Addy’s clever kick through was misjudged by Greg Eden and Bateman was on hand to collect possession and march over the line.
Foster added the extras and then showed intelligence to break clear down the left flank and invite the supporting Sammut to scamper clear from just over ten metres out.
That came after good work from Bateman and Lulia and Foster’s conversion made it 26-6 at the break.
Rovers began the second half on the front foot and twice forced the Bulls into goal-line drop-outs in quick succession, the second of which led to Josh Hodgson scything over the line from ten metres out.
Dobson again added the extras to make it 26-12 and the Bulls began to struggle for any real fluency.
They were not helped by the loss of Donaldson in the 51st minute following an apparent clash of heads with Rovers replacement Adam Walker.
The Bulls youngster required on-field treatment before being helped off the pitch by medical staff, leading Cummins to make a double switch.
Donaldson and Manuokafoa were replaced by Scruton and the outstanding Tom Olbison as the hosts sought to establish a foothold in the second half.
Whitehead and Addy went close with darting runs close to the visitors’ line before Adam O’Brien replaced L’Estrange.
Rovers’ error-prone afternoon continued when Eden knocked on – again unopposed – giving the Bulls another opportunity to score their first points of the second half.
With 15 minutes remaining, that moment came when Sammut left a leaden-footed Rhys Lovegrove for dead 20 metres out and darted through a gap to score his second try.
Foster converted to make it 32-12 and then kicked a late penalty to cap a fine victory for Cummins’ young side.