Rochdale Hornets 28 Bradford Bulls 14

IT HAS become an all too familiar story for the Bulls – a strong start ruined by too many errors and complete lack of cutting edge.

Unfortunately for Bradford's fans, that trend continued at Rochdale as a 12-0 lead turned into another convincing defeat in a pulsating clash that lasted more than two hours from start to finish.

Tries in the opening 20 minutes, from James Bentley and Ted Chapelhow, had the travelling Bulls support basking in the glorious sunshine at the Crown Oil Arena.

However, that was as good as it got for the visitors and their fans who – perhaps predictability – saw their hopes unravel and melt in the heat during yet another error-strewn display.

New dual-reg addition Ed Chamberlain, from Widnes, was thrown straight into the Bulls' starting 13 after popping up in the 19-man squad on Friday.

Elsewhere, Leeds loanee Cameron Smith returned from his troublesome shoulder injury, while Johnny Campbell also made the starting line-up after recovering from his knee injury.

On the flip side, another of the Rhinos on-loan stars, Mikolaj Oledzki, dropped out of the match-day 17 due to his shoulder issue, with Chapelhow stepping in on the bench.

Alan Kilshaw's Hornets came up from League One last season but, after an encouraging start, their campaign had hit the buffers. In fact, heading into this clash, the Bulls had won more league matches this year.

With the visitors aiming to halt their eight-game winless run – in a week when Geoff Toovey finally got the green light to take over as head coach – it was surely too good a chance to miss.

The opening ten minutes were understandably hard-fought and even, with both sides putting together some good sets.

The first real chance of the game came when a penalty got the Bulls within striking distance of the home line – before the visitors inexplicably threw the ball into touch, three yards out, with Omari Caro poised to jog over the whitewash.

Toovey's men then saw a try wiped out when Oscar Thomas' side-step and Ross Oakes' quick hands allowed young gun Bentley to skip through and dive over.

But Bentley had his moment in the sun shortly after, with Jordan Lilley the orchestrator this time to cap off a fine flowing move.

Thomas kicked the extras – and was doing so again moments later after interchange Chapelhow had barged over the line, taking most of the Rochdale defence with him.

The Widnes man looked to have been halted five yards shy but showed his strength by dragging at least two defenders with him to the post.

However, the hosts roared back and bagged a carbon copy try for themselves when Jovilisi Taira burrowed over from close range with the Bradford defence stretched. Daniel Yates booted the extra two points to halve the deficit.

Undeterred, the Bulls stormed up the other end and Lilley almost squirmed over for their third try, only to be help up.

The likes of Sam Hallas, Chapelhow and James Davies were smashing holes in the Rochdale defence at one end, while pulling out some massive hits in the defensive third as half-time loomed.

The Bulls' reward came with another two points when Thomas stroked over a penalty from directly in front of the posts.

There was still time before the break, however, for a 26-man 'set-to' and another try for the home side.

After referee Callum Straw could spot nothing untoward in the scrap involving every player on the field, the Bulls had the chance to clear their lines through Thomas.

Unfortunately, the full back's hack landed in the hands of Taira, who stormed through the visiting defence, ploughing through three 'tackles' before charging over the line – much to the delight of the home crowd.

The end of the half – a 56-minute one – followed soon after with the Bulls retaining a precious two-point advantage at 14-12 up.

Worryingly, the Hornets had become stronger as the clash progressed and most definitely had the momentum ahead of the half-time oranges.

Similarly to the first half, the second began with plenty of endeavour and decent sets from both sides but no points registered in the opening ten minutes.

That was until a poor piece of Bulls defending allowed Lewis Galbraith to break through the line and charge clear. Thomas was on the cover but the full back could not catch the Hornets man. Yates' superb kick from out wide put Rochdale ahead for the first time at 18-14.

The same man's penalty extended that advantage to six points with little more than 20 minutes remaining in Lancashire as the clouds began to gather for Toovey and Co.

The Bulls roared back but, as with so many times this season, lacked cutting edge as twice they knocked on within touching distance of the home line.

Slippery ball syndrome was clearly catching as Lee Mitchell dropped the simplest of chances for the hosts a yard from the line at the other end.

More chances followed for the Bulls, and lots of them, as the visitors laid siege ten yards from the home line. But time and again they were held up, repelled, forced back – or just dropped the ball.

They were made to pay when, on a rare visit to the other end, Rochdale landed the killer blow.

Ben Moores was the architect, chipping a clever kick over the Bulls defence for Matthew Hadden to grab and flop over the line from a couple of yards out. It was a simple score and the Bulls were beaten.

Yates added the extra two points and his penalty late on put the icing on the cake for the home side – and their jubilant support – as the Bradford boys completely ran out of steam.

At the final whistle, Rochdale celebrated like a team who had previously won just once in 14 games – and had not done the double over the Bulls for more than half a century.

So if this was a 'must-win' game for Bradford, what does that make next Sunday's visit of Oldham?