Salford Red Devils 46, Bradford Bulls 18
For a match they simply had to win, the Bulls might have been expected to show some fight in the opening exchanges yesterday.
Instead they fell apart at the seams, conceding four tries to trail 24-0 after just 15 minutes.
It was truly shocking stuff from Francis Cummins’ men and not for the first time either this season.
For Salford at home, Leeds at home, Wigan away, St Helens at home and Catalan away, read Salford away.
Once again in the opening quarter of a match, the Bulls folded like a pack of cards.
Cummins called his players’ defensive efforts “pathetic”.
That felt about right.
This was another miserable chapter in the 2014 season and another significant step closer to the Championship.
A sad view of a once great club slowly but surely losing its fight for top flight survival.
Salford went into the match on the back of an awful eight-match winless streak, yet they outclassed Bradford with plenty to spare.
Iestyn Harris, whose only other win as Red Devils head coach was in his first game in charge at Odsal on April 11, must have felt that Christmas had come early.
Buoyed by the skill, speed and inventiveness of Rangi Chase, Salford simply swatted Bradford aside like a minor irritant.
From the Bulls there was no invention, no belief – in a nutshell, no hope.
The opening twenty minutes were as bad as it gets – it looked and felt like Bradford had thrown in the towel.
The news earlier in the week that Bradford’s points penalty had been upheld appeared to have had a draining effect on Cummins’ players.
Even that was no justification for the way their defence parted like the Red Sea during a first half which saw Salford score six tries and establish a 34-12 lead.
It is worth remembering that the Red Devils had been fairly woeful themselves in recent weeks.
Yesterday Bradford made them look like world-beaters.
If Salford are too good to go down, then the Bulls are too bad to stay up.
The Red Devils now have a nine-point cushion on Bradford with only 11 rounds of the season remaining.
Wakefield are eight points ahead and, while it is not mathematically over yet, the Bulls’ performance did not suggest they are capable of mounting an improbable march to safety.
This was a match in which they simply had to perform to keep alive their hopes of completing mission impossible.
But right from the outset, they allowed their defence to be breached far too easily.
Cummins made just one change to last week’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Warrington with Jordan Baldwinson coming in for the suspended Jay Pitts.
The absence of Pitts meant Matty Blythe switched to the second row and Adam Henry started in the centres.
Salford led inside the third minute when, after Chev Walker conceded a penalty for being offside, hooker Logan Tomkins crashed over from dummy half.
Just moments later from the restart, the Bulls conceded again when full-back Niall Evalds collected a pass from Gareth Hock and showed intelligence to send the supporting Junior Sa’u scampering under the posts from 30 metres.
Incredibly, Salford scored again just two minutes later when Chase brilliantly found Tomkins and his neat pass sent Andrew Dixon over the line.
With the mercurial Chase converting all three tries, Salford were 18-0 up and in total control.
The opening mirrored the start that Bradford had made in their recent thumping defeat in Perpignan – sluggish and way off the pace.
In fairness to the Bulls, they began to fashion a period of decent possession and territory but it ended when Walker knocked on after earlier good work by Adam Henry and Danny Addy.
Walker knocked on again from Luke Gale’s pass moments later to continue his nightmare start and Salford soon grabbed their fourth try and it was a brilliant individual effort from Chase.
The New Zealand-born stand-off produced a brilliant show-and-go from just over 40 metres out to leave a leaden-foot Bradford defence for dead before racing clear for a try he converted.
That made it 24-0 after fifteen minutes played and, while a visibly frustrated Walker was replaced by Adam Sidlow, Salford’s multimillionaire Dr Marwan Koukash was soon stood pitchside nodding in approval.
Koukash and his wife Mandy tried to buy the Bulls earlier this year and, had their bid been successful, who knows how things might have turned out?
As it stands, Bradford appear destined for the Championship while Salford, although huge underachievers this season, can surely at least look forward to another year in Super League.
The Red Devils continued to probe and went close again through Dixon and Hock before the Bulls responded midway through the first half.
Elliot Kear was on hand to apply a clinical finish in the right corner after some neat handling between Matt Diskin, Gale, Lee Gaskell and finally Adrian Purtell.
Gale added the extras in front of the visiting Bulls supporters but Salford soon had a fifth try when Chase touched down in the left corner after Gaskell failed to deal with his high kick.
Baldwinson replaced James Donaldson but Salford scored a sixth try when a mix-up in the Bulls’ defence saw Sa’u collect possession and gallop clear unopposed.
Chase converted to make it 34-6 but the Bulls had the final say of the first half when Tom Olbison barrelled over the line from Gale’s neat pass.
Gale’s conversion made it 34-12 at the break but the game was effectively over as a serious contest.
The Bulls continued to cough up possession and undermine any good approach play with handling errors.
They at least stemmed the home tide defensively with some desperate scrambling defence and gave the scoreline a semblance of respectability when replacement hooker Adam O’Brien darted over from dummy half on the hour and Gale converted.
Tensions threatening to boil over with fifteen minutes when Salford drove Bradford back over their own line, forcing the Bulls to concede a goal-line drop-out and Chase being put on report.
It summed up the desire in the home ranks and moments later referee George Stokes went off injured and was replaced by touch judge Robert Hicks for the final fifteen minutes.
From that drop-out, Bradford conceded a seventh try when Sa’u slipped Francis Meli over in the left corner with another simple score.
Chase converted to make it and, with ten minutes remaining, Salford scored again.
This time Sa’u broke the Bulls’ line and sent the supporting Evalds racing clear from 20 metres out before Chase landed his seventh goal from eight attempts.