Sheffield 18 Bulls 32

IF ONLY the Bulls could have summoned this kind of form just a few weeks earlier.

After another excellent away victory made it three wins from four games, Bradford fans will be left wondering "what if?"

With the drop to League One already sealed, the pressure has certainly lifted off the players' shoulders.

Yet it is their new-found resilience that has been so impressive in recent weeks – something which would have undoubtedly brought a hatful of extra points earlier in the season when the Bulls could not buy a win.

Eagles chairman Chris Noble MBE certainly expected a tough test from the visitors, writing in his programme notes that, despite the Bulls' mid-season slump, "they are now back on form and, while they are rooted at the bottom of the table (due entirely to a 12-point deduction from a previous regime), they are playing good rugby and are a force to be reckoned with. The position in the league means nothing".

Anyone who witnessed the previous weekend's desperate defeat to Batley at Odsal would probably have disagreed with Noble. However, two victories on the bounce prior to that – at Swinton and Oldham – supported the Sheffield chief's summation.

So, which Bulls would show up at Belle Vue for this encounter?

The return of the popular Ethan Ryan – from a broken jaw sustained against Hull KR in July – delivered a timely boost, while young gun Evan Hodgson also earned a recall to the line-up.

With Ross Peltier and Mikolaj Oledzki on the bench, the Bulls had plenty of forward power in reserve to draw upon when required, while Lee Smith took the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Scott Moore.

The Eagles began the day third in the Championship Shield standings but the Bulls landed the first blow.

Cory Aston was the architect with a crafty 'show-and-go' before feeding Vila Halafihi to exploit the gap and dive over. Aston added the extras and it was 6-0 to Geoff Toovey's boys.

It was a score the away side fully merited and they continued to play the game in their hosts' half. That dominance paid off 12 minutes in when Bradford doubled their advantage.

Another great attacking set gave Joe Keyes the platform to deliver a sumptuous cross-field kick which Omari Caro gobbled up on the left flank. Aston's kick from the touchline was just as impressive and the Bulls led 12-0.

The early pressure from the Bulls was telling as Sheffield were repeatedly penalised for high shots – and even received a team warning for their questionable tackling.

When the Eagles did establish some attacking territory, the ball was invariably dropped, knocked on and just thrown into no-man's land.

However, they got their act together eventually. With eight minutes remaining in the half, the home side at last managed to string a decent attacking set together and Bradford-born Elliot Minchella was able to force his way over. Simon Brown kicked the extras.

With the Bulls' resistance broken, Sheffield added another score shortly after – Matty Fozard benefiting from a missed tackle or three to ease through and dive over.

Brown's terrible conversion attempt ensured the Bulls retained a narrow lead at 12-10 but the momentum had noticeably shifted.

It was looking an all-too-familiar story as Bradford surged into an early lead before running out of steam and caving in.

However, a long, tough season has instilled an added resilience into this young Bulls line-up and they responded before the break.

Boosted by the injury withdrawal of the home side's dangerous Mark Mexico, the visitors stormed up the other end of the park and landed a big blow 17 seconds before the hooter.

Caro was again the scorer, somehow wriggling over in the corner after more good work by Keyes. Aston could not convert this time but the Bulls had a precious six-point advantage at the break.

Bradford needed to start the second period well – but didn't. In fact, it took less than four minutes for Sheffield to reduce the deficit again as a cross-field kick was misjudged by Caro and Ben Blackmore did the rest. Brown missed his kick and the Bulls now led by just two points.

That advantage was completely wiped out shortly after as the jet-heeled Gary Lo stormed down the left flank unopposed and added the hosts' fourth score. Again Brown missed the extras but Sheffield were in front for the first time at 18-16.

It was not the opening ten minutes of the half that Toovey would have demanded at the break but again his side showed grit to respond.

Keyes looked to have lost his way 30 yards from the whitewash but linked up superbly with Halafihi to send Macani over in the right-hand corner and the Bulls were back ahead at 20-18, despite Aston's missed kick.

With just two points separating the sides as the encounter reached the hour mark, it was very much game on and the next score was always going to be key.

The Bulls landed it and in remarkable style as Caro cut in from the left, side-stepping at least five Sheffield defenders before doing a full 360 turn and falling over the line. It was an incredible hat-trick try which had even the visiting players smiling.

Aston did his job with the boot and the Bulls had an eight-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.

Another Sheffield knock-on halted their progress ten yards from the Bulls line and, as the game headed into the final five minutes, a forward pass robbed Paddy Flynn of a simple try as the hosts continued to pay for an error-strewn display.

The Bulls took full advantage with another score before the hooter as Lee Smith showed the sort of fancy footwork you might expect from a former England international before gliding over the line.

Another super kick from Aston made it 32-18 and the game was done and dusted.

So, more to cheer for the long-suffering Bulls support and, on this form, their side should be aiming for two more victories to ensure a tough campaign ends on something of a high.