Hull KR 16, Bradford Bulls 0
The rugby gods are just not smiling on the Bulls right now – far from it, in fact.
In the opening quarter of yesterday’s match, Francis Cummins had seen his side lose two key players to injury and concede two tries.
Skipper Matt Diskin was helped off the field in the tenth minute with a torn calf and prop Adam Sidlow followed him soon after with a suspected broken leg.
By that point, tries from Omari Caro and Kris Keating had put Hull KR in control.
Bradford, although riddled with handling errors in difficult, rain-soaked conditions, battled valiantly thereafter in keeping Craig Sandercock’s side at bay for the rest of the first half.
A 12-0 interval deficit was far from insurmountable but in truth, the Bulls rarely looked like scoring and a third Rovers try on the hour mark from Kevin Larroyer put the result beyond doubt.
The collective spirit that Cummins has fostered in his small, tight-knit squad was clear to see once again, exemplified by a much-improved goal-line defensive display.
But the off-field uncertainty surrounding the club is casting a huge shadow over their survival prospects.
The Bulls have now spent six matches in administration and nobody seems any the wiser as to when new owners will be in place, least of all Cummins and his players.
It emerged over the weekend that the London-based consortium fronted by Richard Lamb, the preferred bidder whose offer was accepted by administrator David Wilson on Thursday, was nowhere close to sealing the deal.
They were given a number of deadlines by the Rugby Football League to provide proof of funds by Friday.
They did not manage to do so and so the fight for ownership of the club is effectively back on.
The governing body wanted to see £1million as evidence of the consortium’s ability to not only purchase the club from the administrator for a fee of around £290,000 but to fund it for the rest of the year.
The delay is seriously hampering the Bulls’ chances of surviving relegation from Super League.
They cannot buy the players they so desperately need to bolster their threadbare squad.
Right now the club feels like a sinking ship, or certainly a rudderless one, as there are no directors or chairman to fund or sanction any new signings.
So the Bulls will be down to the bare bones for next Sunday’s trip to Widnes, with both Diskin and Sidlow set for lengthy spells on the sidelines.
Jamie Foster was missing through illness yesterday, affording Sam Wood an opportunity to make his first senior appearance of the season on the left wing.
Matty Blythe also featured for the first time this year after recovering from a thumb injury he sustained during a training session in late December.
The former Warrington man started on the bench and the return of Sidlow and Anthony Mullally also represented a major boost with Chev Walker out suspended.
Sidlow had missed the Huddersfield defeat due to illness, while Mullally was ineligible to face his parent club, so their availability considerably strengthened the Bulls’ front row.
There was also a return to the starting line-up for Elliot Kear owing to the absence of Luke George, who was reduced to the sidelines by a hamstring injury picked up against the Giants.
The under-19s side lost 40-16 in the curtain-raiser yesterday and the current scarcity of Cummins’ resources was underlined by the fact that Oliver Roberts played the first half for Richard Tunningley’s side before being named as 18th man for the senior team.
Rovers named former Bulls stalwart Jamie Langley at loose forward, a position he filled with distinction for the best part of 12 seasons in the red, amber and black before heading east to Hull KR.
The Bulls actually began the game on the front foot and were awarded an early penalty after James Donaldson was caught by a high shot from Josh Hodgson.
Diskin began to combine effectively with Luke Gale and Liam Sutcliffe but the Bulls skipper’s errant offload put paid to a promising move close to the Robins’ line.
Two successive sets having come to nothing, Rovers quickly came to dominate territory and pushed the Bulls back towards their own line.
The hosts’ front-row pairing of Justin Poore and Mick Weyman laid the platform and Travis Burns began to dovetail effectively with half-back partner Keating.
A fine run from Ben Cockayne almost played in Liam Salter inside the right channel before Diskin was forced to depart in the tenth minute to be replaced by Adam O’Brien, who did himself proud with his performance and now looks set for a run in the team as a starting hooker.
Moments later, Burns kicked to the left corner, Kear failed to deal with it and Caro was on hand to ground the loose ball.
Burns added the extras, while Weyman and Poore continued to punch holes up front for the home side.
In the 15th minute, Sidlow knocked on from the first tackle and three minutes later Rovers scored again.
This time Burns drove at the heart of the Bulls’ defence and skipped past Sutcliffe’s attempted tackle before showing intelligence to usher the supporting Keating over from ten metres out.
Burns added the extras again and Mullally soon replaced Manase Manuokafoa before Sidlow went down and was helped off the field in similar fashion to Diskin.
He was replaced by Blythe and, to the Bulls’ credit, they defended doggedly to keep Rovers out again before the break.
Indeed, the damage could have been worse had Kris Welham not been halted just short of the line and Caro not had a try disallowed for a forward pass.
The Bulls created precious little but O’Brien almost scooted over from acting half. What Gale and Sutcliffe tried generally did not work but the Bulls spent much of the first half on the back foot.
They steadied themselves at the break but Rovers grabbed the crucial first try of the second half when second-rower Larroyer collected Burns’ neat grubber kick to score in the right corner on the hour mark.
Rovers then conceded back-to-back penalties and Burns was placed on report for a dangerous tackle on Blythe.
The Bulls were certainly more competitive in the second half but genuine try-scoring opportunities were few for both sides.
There were too many knock-ons from Bradford to force any sustained pressure on Rovers’ line but they never threw in the towel.
The Bulls need more than spirit to stay up, though.
They need new owners and new players.