Bradford Bulls 20, Wakefield Wildcats 12
If the Bulls do go on to achieve Super League survival, they will look back at yesterday’s result as a pivotal moment.
Victory over their nearest relegation rivals was non-negotiable for Francis Cummins’ players and they duly delivered at an emotionally fraught Odsal.
Marc Green may not have got the 10,000-plus crowd he had hoped for but, far more importantly, he did get the result that he and every supporter so desperately craved.
Just 6,249 fans turned up to see the Bulls produce a dominant first-half display which laid the platform for a potentially priceless two points.
Luke Gale was back to his menacing best, orchestrating three well-worked tries for the renascent Adrian Purtell and impressive Tom Olbison.
But it was the return of five key players in Jamal Fakir, Chev Walker, Matty Blythe, Dale Ferguson and Matt Diskin which really made the difference.
Diskin was outstanding during the first half and did not retire until the hour mark, when the highly impressive Jay Pitts carried out a stint at dummy half.
Pitts and Blythe played 80 minutes and did their bit in a nervous second half which saw Matt Ryan’s try brace set up a tense finish and Richard Moore spark a mass brawl which earned him a yellow card.
The former Bradford prop also appeared to give a two-fingered salute to the home fans as he took a breather following his yellow card.
In the end, though, Bradford held on and will now await the outcome of their points appeal hearing on Wednesday.
As much as this spirited success has breathed new life into their faltering campaign, it is hard not to feel that this week's hearing will ultimately dictate their fate.
Yet players are returning and victory at Salford a week on Sunday really would make things interesting, regardless of the points appeal.
Cummins made six changes in total to the side thumped 46-4 by Catalan the previous weekend.
Diskin came back into the side at hooker, Blythe returned in the centres and Walker began at loose forward. Ferguson and Fakir were on the bench, while Luke George started on the wing after Jamie Foster was dropped. Lee Gaskell continued at full back and Danny Addy again partnered Gale in the halves.
Out of the side from last week also went Adam Henry, Joe Arundel, Adam O’Brien, Nathan Conroy and Jordan Baldwinson.
Conroy and Baldwinson helped the Bulls under-19s to a 36-16 victory in yesterday’s curtain-raiser, a welcome omen ahead of the main event.
Wakefield were missing at least of handful of players through injury and suspension in Reece Lyne, Dean Collis, Taulima Tautai, Ali Lautiiti, Jimmy Keinhorst and Chris Annakin.
Their shortage of players forced Richard Agar to delve into the loan market earlier this week to sign former Bradford star Lee Gilmour on a month’s loan from Castleford.
Gilmour, now 36 and making his first appearance for over a year, began on the bench, while Jarrod Sammut and Nick Scruton were named in the starting line-up on their first returns to Odsal.
Sammut partnered Pita Godinet in the halves but Bradford were simply too strong and vibrant during the opening 40 minutes.
The atmosphere was electric, despite the small crowd, and Blythe soon began to show the supporters what they have been missing with some powerful, surging runs.
But it was the experience, nous and class of Diskin which really laid the platform as he began to dominate at the ruck.
Yet Wakefield asked some searching questions of the hosts’ defence before Purtell’s opening try.
Sammut looked lively and it took some obstinate defending to deny Godinet, Sammut, Richard Mathers and Danny Kirmond from close range.
After Mathers conceded a penalty on halfway, the Bulls made the Wildcats pay when Blythe embarked on a searing break inside the left channel.
His progress was halted but the Bulls worked the ball across the face of the Wakefield defence, culminating in Gale’s exquisite long pass sending Purtell over unopposed in the right corner.
Green celebrated with a punch of the air in the balcony of the Coral Stand – and Gale applied the extras to give his side a 6-0 lead in the 11th minute.
The try poured confidence into Cummins’ players and they continued to look menacing in attack.
Mathers denied Purtell with a fine tackle as the Australian centre threatened to burst clear from Addy’s teasing kick but the second try soon came on the back of another penalty.
Again the try came inside the Bulls’ right channel and Gale was once more the architect, this time producing a delightful short inside pass which sent the supporting Olbison marching clear from 20 metres out. Gale added the extras and at that point the Bulls seemed destined to prevail.
Wakefield enjoyed a spell of plentiful possession but they were largely devoid of ideas. Bradford kept them at bay before adding a third try in the 31st minute when Gale and Olbison combined excellently to send Purtell crashing over the line again inside the right channel.
It is proving quite some renaissance for the former Penrith man, who has now scored nine tries this term.
Gale’s conversion attempt hit a post but the Bulls almost grabbed a fourth try when Gaskell advanced from deep and almost sent George over the line.
Five minutes before the break, Sammut produced a piece of magic when he chipped the ball over a defender, collected possession and then threw a pass out wide to Kirmond.
It was a decent enough ball from Sammut but his captain knocked on horribly 20 metres out and the chance was spurned.
When referee Richard Silverwood blew his whistle to signal the end of the opening 40 minutes, the home crowd gave Cummins’ players a standing ovation.
That said much for their first-half endeavours but could they replicate that display after the break?
They made a fairly awful start when Wakefield pulled a try back five minutes after the restart.
A neat passing sequence saw the ball go through the hands of Sammut, Godinet and Sammut again before Ryan touched down in the right corner.
Sammut converted with aplomb and now this was a test for the Bulls.
Could they hold off a Wakefield fightback?
The Wildcats began to probe and tempers flared soon after when Moore was sent to the sin-bin after clashing with Kear, sparking a mass brawl which saw him land several punches and saw Adam Sidlow get stuck in.
Still the visitors continued to ask questions and Mathers went over on the hour but the try was disallowed for obstruction.
Moments later, Diskin came off after a 60-minute shift in a change which saw Pitts moved to acting half.
Gale sent a drop-goal attempt wide in the 67th minute and, after another penalty from Gale, Ryan scored his second try late on from close range from Scruton's neat pass.
But the Bulls held on for a deserved win which lifted them to within six points of the Wildcats.