Warrington Wolves 32, Bradford Bulls 4
The final scoreline was harsh but then this was another harsh lesson.
The Bulls are making steady progress under Francis Cummins’ guidance and a glance at the Super League table is proof enough.
They lie sixth at the midway point in the season but lacked composure at crucial times yesterday.
Trailing 14-4 at the break, Bradford battered Warrington’s line for a sustained period after the restart. A try at that point could have proved pivotal.
Instead they could not find the guile to make their field position pay and Tony Smith’s men hit them with a vicious sucker-punch in the 52nd minute when Joel Monaghan added their fourth try.
Doubts surrounded the validity of the winger’s score as he grounded the ball from Richie Myler’s kick in the right corner. Cummins felt Monaghan may have dropped the ball but referee Phil Bentham awarded the score and Warrington never looked back.
The Bulls conceded three more tries in the last ten minutes to slip to their ninth straight defeat against the Wolves.
Adam Sidlow looked to have touched down legitimately in the second period but no try was awarded, adding to the feeling that nothing went for Bradford after the break.
Yet Cummins admitted the best team won – Warrington, let it be remembered, have won the Challenge Cup three times in the past four seasons and emerged as a serious force – but also felt the Bulls did not help themselves at times.
They allowed Warrington to dominate the ruck area and that allowed their half-back pairing of Stefan Ratchford and Myler to ultimately pick Bradford apart.
Crucially, Cummins could not fault the desire of his players and took heart from the performance of on-loan Warrington centre Ben Evans on his Super League debut against his parent club.
Yesterday’s match pitted Cummins against the man who did much to help shape his coaching career.
After injury cut short his on-pitch career aged just 29, Smith invited Cummins to join his coaching staff after the former winger was forced to retire at the end of 2005 after 12 seasons as a Leeds player.
Cummins served under Smith and latterly Brian McClennan during a five-year stint on the coaching staff, before becoming Mick Potter’s right-hand man at Bradford ahead of the 2011 season.
He recalled Brett Kearney, Elliot Kear, Matt Diskin and Nick Scruton against the Wolves while Smith handed Super League debuts off the bench to Danny Bridge and Glenn Riley.
But it was an awful start as Michael Platt spilled Ratchford’s high bomb, forcing the Bulls to drop out inside the second minute.
From that next set, Warrington came straight back at them and Ben Westwood’s simple pass ushered Simon Grix over the line in the right corner from close range all too easily.
The Bulls steadied themselves and fashioned an impressive response which saw skipper Heath L’Estrange embark on a delightful weaving run from halfway, giving the visitors some excellent field position.
Despite the intricate probing of Luke Gale and Jarrod Sammut, they could not make it pay and Warrington continued to look dangerous.
In the 12th minute, another dangerous high kick from Ratchford was fielded well by Platt but at the expense of another goal-line drop-out.
Warrington quickly began to turn the screw again and the impressive Micky Higham’s short pass found second-rower Trent Waterhouse ten metres out.
He was held up just short but the Wolves worked the ball back to the increasingly influential Ratchford, whose teasing grubber kick was grounded at pace by the onrushing Ben Currie.
Currie is rated alongside Bulls star John Bateman as one of the best young forwards in Super League and was certainly a notable presence yesterday.
The Bulls were struggling to stem the tide as Warrington came at them in wave after wave of attacks.
Sidlow came on to replace Manase Manuokafoa and, after Adrian Purtell made a fine break inside the right channel, the Bulls earned three penalties in quick succession.
Their pressure finally told in the 22nd minute when Gale found Kearney and his pass sent the supporting Purtell galloping over in the right corner.
Sammut could not convert from a difficult angle and then conceded a penalty when holding on to Mike Cooper.
The Bulls survived that latest spell of pressure and in the 28th minute Evans and Matt Diskin came on to replace Scruton and L’Estrange.
It was a momentous occasion for Evans on his Super League debut against his own club. He did not seem fazed in the slightest and soon made a couple of strong carries and one superb offload out of a tackle.
As the interval approached, Gale and Diskin combined superbly to find Sammut in a sweeping move which cut Warrington apart and found Kear on the right flank.
He went close and Sammut did likewise but Warrington held firm and then hit the Bulls right on the stroke of half-time.
Diskin fielded Westwood’s dangerous kick at the expense of another goal-line drop-out and Warrington made it pay when Brett Hodgson’s exquisite long cut-out pass sent Chris Riley plunging over in the left corner.
Hodgson could not add the extras to leave the hosts with a 14-4 interval lead.
It was not an unfair reflection of the opening 40 minutes but, crucially, it left the Bulls still right in the game.
Driving rain greeted the teams as they emerged for the second half and, five minutes after the restart, Sidlow touched down a loose ball from a kick.
Bentham refused to give it after ruling he had not grounded properly but the Bulls continued to probe, with Bateman making his presence felt and Evans also making more strong carries. Sadly, they could not make their pressure pay.
Warrington, for their part, always gave the inescapable impression they could move through the gears when the opportunities arose and so it proved in the 52nd minute when Monaghan touched down Myler’s high kick to ground in the right corner.
Although Hodgson’s conversion attempt was awry, the Wolves got the bit between their teeth and it was soon one-way traffic.
Moments later another devastating move saw Myler exchange passes with Ratchford before Purtell’s fine tackle denied the England scrum half a certain score.
The Bulls continued to fight and Kearney, having picked up a knock moments earlier, fumbled the ball as he attempted to ground from close range.
The pendulum swung back in Warrington’s favour and they claimed their fifth try in the 71st minute when Higham’s short pass sent Chris Hill barrelling over from close range.
Minutes later, former Bulls player Ryan Atkins broke clear inside the left channel and showed intelligence to find Myler in support.
Myler then showed similar awareness to send the ball back into the path of Atkins, who scampered clear down the left channel. He grounded it in front of the massed ranks of Bradford supporters and booted the ball into the stand where they were housed.
With two minutes remaining, Grix grabbed his second from Ratchford’s short pass to complete the scoring.