Bradford Bulls 60, Oldham Roughyeds 6
As Dale Ferguson completed his post-match warm-down along with fellow debutant Jamal Fakir, he looked thoroughly pleased with himself.
After all, the Scotland international had not only capped a fine display with the Bulls’ 11th and final try, he had banished several months of injury hell.
Do not underestimate how frustrating life as a Bradford player has been for Ferguson since he joined the club after the World Cup.
A persistent back problem hampered him during pre-season and forced him to undergo a recent operation.
Having recovered much quicker than anticipated, Ferguson was back doing what he does best yesterday; breaking lines, creating opportunities for others. Scoring tries.
Little wonder he was grinning from ear to ear after the match.
Fakir was also quietly satisfied after a debut which saw him get better as the game wore on.
By his own admission, the France prop was blowing during his opening stint in the first half, lasting ten minutes before being withdrawn.
After the break, he played over 20 minutes and was far more impressive, giving him some vital game-time ahead of Friday’s home match against Salford and the busy Easter period thereafter.
Fakir will also face his former club Catalan Dragons later this month in the fifth round of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup after the Bulls marched past Oldham at a canter yesterday.
Luke Gale led by example with a hat-trick and eight goals in an impressive 28-point haul.
The first half was a mixed bag for the Bulls as, while they were always in control of proceedings, they never quite managed to find the fluency they would have liked.
Yet the result was never in doubt and Francis Cummins’ men moved through the gears in the second half, making their superior fitness and ability pay.
It was a mark of respect that Cummins had for Scott Naylor’s side and indeed the competition that he fielded something approaching his strongest-possible side.
Ferguson was fit to start in the second row for his senior debut and Fakir made his bow off the bench in the first half.
With the terraces closed yesterday, Bulls fans and a small but noisy contingent from Oldham all packed into the Provident Stand.
It made for a good old-fashioned cup-tie atmosphere and Oldham did not seem overawed by facing Super League opposition.
The part-timers from Championship One never let their heads drop and at no point during the first half did they look like folding.
Gale opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a fine individual score.
Collecting a neat short pass off Adam O’Brien from a play-the-ball 20 metres out, the England Knights scrum half showed impressive pace and footwork to weave his way through a leaden-footed Oldham defence to score in front of the Coral Stand.
Marc Green, in his first home game as chairman and owner of the club, applauded from on high before Gale converted the score to make it 6-0.
Ferguson then embarked on one of several marauding runs from deep which underlined his quality as he builds up to something approaching full match fitness.
Oldham, for their part, threatened only sporadically but Brett Robinson’s teasing grubber kick was slightly overcooked as the ball ran dead.
The Bulls, having withstood that brief spell of pressure from the visitors, struck again in the 17th minute through the rejuvenated Brett Kearney.
It was another well-work score which saw O’Brien drive at the heart of the Oldham defence before ushering the supporting Kearney clear from 20 metres out.
Gale again converted and Elliot Kear then broke inside the right channel with a fine run which came to nothing.
But moments later, Kear did superbly well to send Gale over the line for a simple try and the scorer converted to make it 18-0.
Midway through the first half, Fakir entered the fray as a replacement for Chev Walker and, while he made his presence felt, he was withdrawn ten minutes later.
Oldham, to their credit, refused to capitulate.
The Roughyeds, who included former Bradford prop Jason Boults, scored a try of their own in the 23rd minute when replacement hooker Kenny Hughes showed strength and speed to scoot over from acting half.
Lewis Palfrey converted to give the visiting supporters something to cheer and the game grew scrappier as the interval approached.
James Donaldson was held up over the line by some obstinate Oldham defending before the Bulls claimed their fourth try shortly before the break.
It stemmed from Ferguson’s excellent, lung-bursting run from halfway, which looked destined to take him over the line for an excellent individual try.
Instead he was tackled just short before Gale’s quick pass sent Kear over for an easy score.
Gale’s fourth conversion from as many attempts made it 24-6 at the break and Cummins would have doubtless demanded an improvement from his men after the break.
He duly got it as O’Brien, who enjoyed a fine game, darted over from dummy half, before Danny Addy squeezed over inside the right channel.
Gale converted both tries to make it 36-6 with over half an hour remaining.
Cummins then gave Ferguson a breather and replaced O’Brien with teenage hooker Nathan Conroy, while Fakir re-entered the action.
In the 55th minute, the Bulls fashioned another neat try as Matty Blythe embarked on a strong run inside the right channel.
He found Kear in support and the Welshman’s intelligent inside ball gave the onrushing Adam Henry a walk-in.
Three minutes later, Henry returned the favour in the same spot as his perfectly-timed pass sent Kear diving over the line.
Gale, having hit the post with his conversion attempt for Henry’s try, made no mistake with adding the extras to Kear’s effort, so a 46-6 lead with over 20 minutes remaining was a pleasing one for Cummins.
Manase Manuokafoa was within inches of scoring with 16 minutes remaining as he narrowly fail to ground the ball from close range.
Ferguson soon returned to the action in place of the hard-working Donaldson, before Gale’s diagonal run led to him to sending Jamie Foster over in the left corner in the 67th minute.
It was a decent finish from Foster as he squeezed past the tiring Oldham defence to score – and Conroy then sent Gale over for his hat-trick try.
Ferguson, fittingly, then scored the final try with three minutes remaining. Henry hacked the ball forward and sent Ferguson over for a simple score.
Job done – for both the try-scorer and his team.