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It’s kid’s stuff for Bradford Bulls as youngsters impress against Huddersfield Giants
Bradford Bulls 58 Huddersfield Giants 6
Much was made of Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson’s decision to rest the majority of his players and field a bunch of kids on Saturday.
What should not be overlooked is the fact that the Bulls were similarly understrength; not to the extent of their opponents but severely depleted all the same.
As Francis Cummins flooded his side with youthful promise – Curtis Naughton and Nathan Conroy made their debuts and were among eight Academy graduates on duty – many of his top men sat in the stands.
You could add Oliver Roberts, another outstanding prospect who would have played but for injury, to that list too.
Thus the Bulls were deprived of ten of their first-team squad.
That afforded opportunities for Naughton at full back and Conroy off the bench, with Sam Wood and Alex Mellor making another first-team appearance.
Naughton, a Dewsbury lad who played his amateur rugby at Shaw Cross, was particularly impressive.
He is blessed with natural talent and was delighted to make his first-team bow, having trained full-time all year with Cummins’ squad.
Conroy, a stocky little hooker and lifelong Bulls fan who lives a stone’s throw from Odsal on Halifax Road, was similarly ecstatic after coming on for the last 20 minutes.
Naughton, Conroy and Mellor are all just 18, while Academy captain Wood is 19.
The Bulls’ back row on Saturday was made up of three homegrown players in Tom Olbison, Danny Addy and James Donaldson, while Adam O’Brien came off the bench, so there was no shortage of optimism swirling around Odsal after the game.
“The average age of the squad is 24,” said Cummins on a day when nine youngsters who have signed up to play in the Academy until the end of 2015 were introduced to the crowd at half-time.
“You look past the obvious ones who made their debuts in Curtis and Nathan but Olbison and Addy are only 22.
“We’ve got John Bateman to come back into the equation and the best is yet to come from these lads.
“I’ve only been at the club for three years but the way these lads train and play is unrecognisable from even last year. They’re only going to get better.”
After the humiliation of losing at home to London Broncos six days earlier, Cummins was desperate to finish the season on a high.
At the awards evening last Tuesday, joint-captain Matt Diskin called the Bulls’ failure to make the play-offs for the fifth successive year “embarrassing”.
“We’ve got a chance on Saturday to give ourselves a good feeling to end the season on,” Cummins told supporters in the Coral Stand last week.
This, they most certainly did.
The result marked the Bulls’ biggest Super League win of the season and confirmed a ninth-placed finish; not an insignificant achievement for a club whose continued existence lay in serious doubt 12 months ago.
Sadly, there was no last hurrah for Langley after he was knocked out against London and failed a head test before Saturday’s game.
But Keith Lulia delivered the perfect farewell present with a clinical hat-trick on his last appearance for the club.
The Cook Islands centre will leave the Bulls having scored eight tries in his last five appearances.
Michael Platt came off the bench in his last game for the Bulls, ending a seven-year stay at a club where he enjoys cult status with a section of supporters, who proudly carry the ‘Michael Platt’s Barmy Army’ banner to every match.
It remains to be seen where Langley and Platt will end up next season but Lulia is heading home to Australia to become reunited with Mick Potter on a two-year deal at Wests Tigers.
All three men addressed the crowd afterwards and paid an emotional tribute to supporters.
Spare a thought too for Jobe Murphy, who progressed through the scholarship and Academy ranks and made his first-team debut this year but has not been offered a new deal.
That is the harsh nature of professional sport but Cummins has not been afraid to make a few tough calls in his first year as a Super League head coach.
When it became apparent Elliott Whitehead no longer wanted to play for the club, he quickly ushered him out of the door.
He has been similarly bold in ending Langley and Platt’s long association with the club, which between them includes around two decades’ outstanding service.
One player who will be around next year is Jarrod Sammut, who underlined his rare ability by scoring four tries, taking his tally for the season to 25.
The 26-year-old stand-off had tortured Huddersfield with a hat-trick in the Bulls’ 43-18 win at the John Smith’s Stadium in March.
And he was at it again, opening the scoring with a brilliant length-of-the-field effort before grabbing three second-half scores.
Former Bulls prop Anderson rested most of his first-choice players with the League Leaders’ Shield already in the bag and a home play-off clash with Wigan looming on Thursday.
He handed debuts to kids Jake Connor, Jack Miller, Nathan Mason and Jack Blagbrough – and Bradford duly took advantage.
After withstanding four successive early Huddersfield sets, Sammut caught a high kick from the Giants’ Kyle Wood to race 95 metres to score under the posts.
With Addy enjoying a fine game in the second row on his 29th consecutive Super League appearance, the Bulls proceeded to take Huddersfield to the cleaners.
Lulia’s first came in the 16th minute when he finished well in the left corner after Elliot Kear, who enjoyed another outstanding match, and Addy combined to send him over.
Diskin would have scored but for losing control of the ball as he went for the line but there was no stopping Lulia on 26 minutes as he took Luke Gale's pass to cross for his second try.
A 40-20 kick from Sammut set up the position for Addy to power over for a fourth and Sammut then combined to send Jamie Foster over in the left corner.
With Foster kicking four conversions, the Bulls led 28-0 at the break and it quickly got worse for the visitors, with Bradford-bound centre Luke George losing possession inside the first set of tackles in the second half.
Foster was released by Lulia and his inside pass got Sammut over for his second try, with Foster's fifth goal stretching his side’s lead to 34-0.
Huddersfield replied in the 48th minute when the highly-rated Connor weaved his way through the Bradford defence inside the right channel and Miller added the conversion.
It remained one-way traffic, however, as Sammut completed his hat-trick on the hour and followed up Foster’s delicate grubber kick to make it four eight minutes later.
Kear claimed a deserved 11th try of the season in the right corner before Lulia fittingly finished off the rout and Foster kicked his ninth goal from ten attempts to finish with a personal haul of 22 points.
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