Huddersfield Giants 52, Bradford Bulls 26
AS painful as it was to stomach, at least the Bulls now know where they stand.
Jimmy Lowes’ men will ply their trade in the Championship next season in what will be the club's first year outside of the top flight since 1974.
It is a fate that has beckoned them since before the season even began, with a second administration in 18 months having a devastating effect on the Bulls’ fortunes.
The loss of key players and six points was always going to be difficult to overcome and so it has proved.
Not even the appointment of the club’s legendary former hooker could save them.
This was the Bulls’ fourth straight defeat since Lowes took charge and sent them tumbling into the Championship.
They can now prepare for trips to places such as Halifax, Leigh, Featherstone and Dewsbury next season and possibly a derby with Keighley.
Lowes said when he was appointed last month that if the Bulls were to go down, they would go down fighting and he has been true to his word.
Although this was another heavy defeat in a season of heavy defeats, the Bulls showed some spirit in front of their 500 or so travelling supporters, who sang themselves hoarse.
“Bradford ‘till I die,” they chanted in the closing stages of the match.
By then, reality had begun to hit home: Bradford Bulls were about to relegated from Super League.
It is a prospect that was unthinkable less than a decade ago as the Bulls were serial Grand Finalists and experts at collecting silverware.
In fact, their last trophy had come on this ground in 2006, when Brian Noble’s men thumped Wests Tigers in the World Club Challenge.
In 2002, Lowes was named man of the match when Bradford beat Newcastle in the World Club Challenge, also on this ground.
The desire and commitment that characterised Lowes as a player is slowly beginning to transmit itself to his players, even though it has come too late to save them.
That fire will be crucial next season in the Championship as the Bulls seek to bounce back into the top flight at the first attempt.
Although a number of players such as Luke Gale will depart, the process of assembling a squad for the rigours of life in the second tier is underway.
Today’s news that Lee Gaskell and Dale Ferguson have committed themselves to the Bulls for the next two seasons is a major boost.
Others look set to follow but it will clearly be no easy task to make an immediate return to the top flight.
Lowes believes his players will win a game before the end of the season if they play like they did yesterday.
The Bulls went toe-to-toe with Huddersfield during the opening 40 minutes but conceded two tries in quick succession shortly before half-time.
However, Paul Anderson’s side, which included six former Bradford players in their line-up, were ultimately too strong and ran away with the game in the second half.
Bradford are the second founder members of Super League to be relegated after London Broncos' drop into the Championship was confirmed a week ago, completing a stunning fall from grace eight years after they were crowned world club champions for the third time.
Sunday's result merely confirmed the inevitable and the Bulls received no sympathy from Anderson, whose Huddersfield team got their top-six campaign back on track after back-to-back defeats, with winger Jermaine McGillvary scoring three of their ten tries.
The Bulls had their moments – three times taking the lead in an error-strewn first half – before the Giants ran away with the game after the break.
There was a hint of a stay of execution when former Huddersfield winger Luke George, making his first appearance under Lowes, grabbed two first-half tries to help Bradford establish a 16-10 lead after 24 minutes.
Gale, who will join Castleford next season, got George over for his first and also created one for hooker Adam O'Brien before the winger collected Lee Gaskell's high kick to claim his second.
Neither side was able to get to their kick on the last tackle and Huddersfield demonstrated the more clinical finishing to lead 26-16 at the break.
Teenage full back Jake Connor marked his home debut by scoring the Giants' first try, second rower Ukuma Ta'ai pounced on a blunder by Bradford full back Brett Kearney to touch down and Leroy Cudjoe's long-range break created a score for scrum-half Luke Robinson.
The home side looked to have gained a grip on the game when skipper Danny Brough and second rower Brett Ferres combined to get substitute Chris Bailey over and Cudjoe palmed the ball back from Brough's kick to send McGillvary over for his first try.
But another handling error, this time from substitute Larne Patrick – within a minute of the restart – gifted Bradford a glorious attacking position and they made the most of it, with Gaskell sending Kearney over for their fourth try.
However, Jamie Foster's conversion rebounded off an upright, leaving him with a tally of two successes from four attempts and his side trailing by six points.
Ferres, who began his professional career with the Bulls, forced his way over from close range for Huddersfield's sixth try and there was no way back for the visitors when another ex-Bradford man, centre Joe Wardle, stole the ball in a one-on-one tackle from George to sprint 70 metres for an opportunist score.
As the Bulls wilted in the warm sunshine, McGillvary touched down twice in eight minutes to complete his hat-trick and Ta'ai scored a second, with Cudjoe taking his goal tally to six from ten attempts, although Kearney grabbed a consolation try for the visitors.
As the final hooter went, a number of Bulls players sank to their knees in despair.
Minutes later, Lowes was talking optimistically in his press conference about bouncing back into Super League at the first attempt.
It is on such desire that the Bulls’ promotion assault will be founded next season.