Warrington Wolves 50, Bradford Bulls 24
JIMMY Lowes said last week he did not have a magic wand to engineer an upturn in fortunes at Bradford.
Quite clearly, there will be no quick fix to stop the rot.
In Lowes’ first match in charge, his players might have been expected to rouse themselves and perhaps even capitalise on the absence of six Warrington regulars.
But they conceded three early tries to trail 16-0 after just 13 minutes before shipping another four tries shortly after the break.
Slow starts – or rather, shocking starts – have become an unwanted habit for the Bulls this season.
Not even the arrival of Lowes could change that yesterday.
In fairness, Warrington are an outstanding team and would have done considerable damage to plenty of sides yesterday with Stefan Ratchford, Micky Higham, Gareth O’Brien and former Bradford prospect Ryan Atkins all in scintillating form.
To the Bulls’ credit, their spirits never sagged and they breached Warrington’s line three times in the final quarter, although the game had long since ended as a serious contest.
Lowes took the positives from defeat but, with only nine games remaining, it will take a minor miracle to beat the drop now.
The legendary former Bulls hooker got his first taste of life as a Super League head coach at Warrington, having replaced Paul Cullen in 2008.
He lasted just ten months before being replaced by Smith but has been entrusted by Bulls owner Marc Green as the man to lead the club back to its former glories.
The kind of successes that Lowes enjoyed as a player seem a million miles away right now.
Lowes has a mountainous task on his hands, not just make Bradford competitive again in Super League for the remainder of the season but, perhaps more pertinently, to build a squad capable of competing for promotion next year.
Steve McNamara’s first game in charge of the Bulls had also come at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in April 2006, the Wolves running out winners on that occasion too.
The return of Brett Kearney after seven games on the sidelines with a broken thumb was a huge boost to Lowes yesterday.
The Australian went straight back into the starting line-up, allowing Lee Gaskell to move into the halves alongside Luke Gale while Luke George and Jamal Fakir were dropped.
Yesterday’s curtain-raiser saw the Bulls’ Academy side beaten 62-24 by their Warrington counterparts.
For the main event, however, Warrington were Richie Myler, Michael Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ben Evans, Chris Hill and Trent Waterhouse.
Lowes directed affairs from the bench as opposed to from up high in the stands.
The early signs were encouraging as Gale began to see plenty of the ball, and some meticulous dummy running across the face of the Warrington defence by the scrum half saw Kearney and Danny Addy go close.
Inside the fourth minute, however, Gale undid much of his good early work by knocking on clumsily around 30 metres from his own line.
That gave Warrington the chance to build immediate pressure on the Bulls’ line and they made it pay when, after O’Brien was denied, back-rower Ben Harrison barrelled over the line on the next tackle.
Ratchford, who orchestrated affairs superbly alongside O’Brien, failed to convert but the Wolves continued to probe and Higham burst through a gaping hole in midfield, making considerable ground and threatening to go all the way.
His progress was halted but Warrington worked the ball to O’Brien, whose clever kick behind the Bradford defence was grounded by the onrushing Atkins.
The Wolves then grabbed a third try when the ball ran loose following a tackle close to the Bulls’ line and O’Brien was on hand to touch down.
Ratchford’s second goal from three attempts made it 16-0 after less than 15 minutes.
It would be harsh to say the game was effectively over at that point – but it would not be too far wide of the mark.
High bombs from Gaskell and Gale tested Gene Ormsby and Matty Russell in quick succession but they were up to the task and the Wolves had few problems keeping their visitors at bay.
Bradford struggled to escape their own half for much of the first half but they fashioned a decent spell of pressure in the 25th minute.
Following a decent run by Kearney inside the right channel, Gaskell stabbed a grubber kick towards the left corner but it fell straight into the path of Russell.
The Scotland international immediately set his side on the attack again before the hosts introduced rookie prop George King for his Super League debut.
Ten minutes before half-time, Adrian Purtell collected possession after Warrington carelessly gave it away but, with Blythe unmarked to his left, the Australian centre failed to offload and was tackled.
Moments later, Adam O’Brien knocked on just short of the line, which pretty much summed up Bradford as an attacking force.
But they refused to lie down and a spell of pressure before half-time harvested a well-worked try for the returning Kearney.
Gaskell strode forward from halfway and produced a delicate offload out of a tackle to the supporting Kearney, who raced past Russell 30 metres to score a fine try.
Gale’s conversion saw Warrington’s lead cut to ten points and Kearney soon went close again after excellent work from Manuokafoa.
But within 60 seconds of the restart, Bradford conceded again.
Ratchford’s simple high bomb was caught by the onrushing Joel Monaghan, who beat Kearney to the ball and grounded with aplomb.
Ratchford improved the score to make it 22-6 and Warrington began to move through the gears in devastating fashion.
In the 44th minute, and after Russell was stopped just short, Higham’s short pass sent Ben Westwood crashing over from close range.
Moments later, Warrington scored again when Ratchford and O’Brien combined to send Monaghan over.
It got even worse soon after when Ormsby plunged over in the right corner after good work from Atkins and O’Brien.
There was some respite for Bradford in the 59th minute when Gaskell broke from deep and sent Purtell clear inside the right channel.
Five minutes later, O’Brien scampered through a gap in the Bulls’ rearguard to score before Rhys Evans took a pass from Atkins to score in the left corner.
Bradford hit back with two late tries as Purtell embarked on a surging run inside the right channel and sent Olbison over the line before Jay Pitts touched down late on.