St Helens 46 Bradford Bulls 22
DURING Jimmy Lowes’ time as a Bradford player, matches against St Helens were occasions to increase the heartbeat as the rivals battled it out for Super League supremacy.
In his first game against the same opposition as the Bulls’ head coach last night, it was barely even a contest, at least not for the best part of an hour.
When Tommy Makinson took Jordan Turner’s pass to score Saints’ seventh try in the 49th minute, Mark Percival’s conversion made it 40-0.
The Bulls were facing serious humiliation at that point.
They could easily have thrown in the towel.
But showing the same kind of never-say-die attitude which characterised Lowes the player, the Bulls roused themselves in highly spirited fashion.
The fightback harvested four tries in 15 minutes and gave the small band of travelling supporters reason to cheer.
Yet those tries from Luke Gale, Joe Arundel, Adrian Purtell and Jamie Foster could not mask the fact that it was a truly dismal first-half display.
In the bigger picture, it was a defeat which sent the Bulls a significant step closer to the drop.
As Lowes himself admitted, his men failed to compete during the opening 40 minutes and were punished accordingly.
Saints outclassed Lowes’ side comprehensively, coasting to a victory that banished the pain of their heavy defeat to Hull KR the week previously.
There is every chance the Bulls could be relegated should they lose at Huddersfield next weekend.
Losing their top-flight status would mark the culmination of several years of decline, both on and off the field, and leave Lowes with a major rebuilding job in the Championship next year.
The process is already underway and announcements over which players will be retained and recruited are expected in the coming days.
Lowes has sought to transmit the fire, desire and commitment which characterised him as a player to the current squad.
He has inherited a squad desperately light on numbers and struggling for confidence, but there were a few encouraging signs last night, albeit when the game was effectively over.
Lowes recalled Foster to the side after a six-match absence and deployed him on the left wing.
Foster progressed through the ranks at St Helens but had never played against his hometown club at Langtree Park.
Another ex-Saints man in Lee Gaskell lined up at stand-off and Adam O’Brien was the starting hooker on his 21st birthday at the expense of club captain Matt Diskin, who was dropped.
Saints fans did not take kindly to being stuffed at Hull KR last weekend and they arrived at Langtree Park fully expecting to see a response.
They got one as Brown’s boys took the match by the scruff of the neck to score five first-half tries to lead 28-0 at the break.
They led in the ninth minute when England hooker James Roby collected a short pass from Mark Flanagan to power over from close range after the Bulls conceded a penalty.
The Bulls steadied themselves and almost replied with a try in the 11th minute when Gale’s high kick was spilled by the St Helens defence.
The ball fell to Purtell but he could not ground the ball and Saints survived.
Soon after, the Bulls were awarded a penalty but Gale failed to find touch and the hosts were back on the front foot.
Moments later, Jon Wilkin clipped a crafty grubber kick behind the Bulls’ defence which forced Purtell to concede a goal-line drop-out.
It was not only the movement of the home side which caused Bradford so many problems but their sheer physicality.
Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor helped to lay a platform in the front row before Mose Mose came on to do similar damage.
Again, it was a reminder of the haves and the have-nots of Super League with St Helens having spent big again during the off-season while the Bulls’ squad was ripped apart by administration.
Bradford struggled to create any openings and they conceded a second try in the 17th minute when veteran full-back Paul Wellens broke from inside his own half to score.
It was too easy as the 34-year-old was made to look like a teenager with the manner in which he galloped past an outpaced Bradford defence.
Thereafter, the Bulls showed admirable spirit to defend their line furiously with some excellent goal-line defence.
But Saints were not to be denied and soon had a third try.
Masoe then simply overpowered the Bradford defence to barrel over the line from close range on the half hour.
Some of Saints’ play was delightful and they had a fourth in the 37th minute when Percival went over in the left corner.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Percival turned provider when he sent Adam Swift over in the same spot he had scored moments earlier.
It was all too easy for St Helens against a Bradford side who have been ripped apart this season by an administration which saw them docked six points and lose a number of key players.
Two minutes after the restart, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook broke upfield and sent Lance Hohaia scampering clear.
Once again it was all too easy as the Bradford defence failed to cope with the physicality of their hosts.
Saints scored again in the 49th minute when Turner sent Makinson over in the right corner.
Percival’s conversion made it 40-0 but the Bulls began to throw the ball about with abandon.
They claimed their first try in the 57th minute when Gale scampered over from close range after the ball fell fortuitously back into his arms off a Saints defender.
Try number two soon followed as Gale’s high bomb was not dealt with by the home defence and Arundel grounded the ball in the right corner.
Their third try was a delightful effort as Purtell finished off after excellent work from Arundel and Gale.
With eight minutes remaining, Foster produced an athletic finish to plunge over the line in the left corner from Brett Kearney's pass in front of the visiting fans.
That made it 22 unanswered points since Saints’ last try but the home side hit back late in the dying embers when Wellens took a pass to cross from close range for his second.