Race for a play-off place still on as Bradford Bulls revved up for Rovers (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Race for a play-off place still on as Bradford Bulls revved up for Rovers
Bradford Bulls 38 Widnes Vikings 26
Right folks, strap yourselves in, get your goggles on and hold on tight.
Friday’s visit of Hull KR could be the ride of your life.
Yesterday’s victory over Widnes, coupled with Leeds’ narrow win at Craven Park, has lifted the Bulls to within two points of Craig Sandercock’s men.
With Mick Potter piloting the good ship Bradford, few would bet against his men taking the spoils in four days’ time at what promises to be an emotionally-fraught Odsal .
Victory is non-negotiable and would further encourage hopes that a top-eight finish is theirs for the taking.
You cannot write the scripts of Bradford Bulls this year.
How many sides could ignore the uncertainty off the field to continually do the business on it?
How many coaching teams would return to work for a month without pay after being made redundant?
What Potter and his players have done this season is the stuff of legend, regardless of what they may go on to achieve as uncertainty over the club’s ownership continues to rumble on.
Making the play-offs after being docked points because of the mismanagement of others would certainly be an incredible feat.
Remarkably, it remains within their grasp.
Some stiff tests await the Bulls, not least the visit of Hull FC and the final-round trip to Catalan Dragons. Yet life still pulses through this famous old club.
Yesterday’s victory was not the most compelling endorsement of the Bulls’ play-off credentials. In rain-soaked conditions – and during a downpour of biblical proportions during the closing stages – there were handling errors aplenty from both sides.
Crucially, the Bulls had the class and authority of Heath L’Estrange to steer them home, plus the inventiveness of Ben Jeffries and Luke Gale.
Bolstered by the return of Kearney and Jeffries, the Bulls had too much quality for a Widnes side who battled gamely throughout but were ultimately outclassed.
Widnes looked to the left boot of Danny Craven to guide them around the park and his astute kicking gave them a platform on which to build in difficult conditions.
With five minutes played, the Vikings led when scrum half Rhys Hanbury helped to orchestrate a fine sequence which culminated in Patrick Ah Van squeezing over in the left corner.
The Bulls sought to find an immediate response but a brief flurry of pressure amounted to nothing and Widnes hit them with another vicious sucker-punch in the tenth minute.
Hooker Paul McShane found second-rower Frank Winterstein just inside his own half with a neat offload and he kept the move flowing with another short pass to Ah Van inside the left channel.
He broke into the Bulls’ half before Kearney halted his progress with a fine tackle, but referee Steve Ganson punished the hosts for holding down and Widnes made them pay.
From the next set, they camped inside the Bulls’ 20-metre line and prop Ben Davies barrelled over from close range for a try which Hanbury converted with ease.
A 12-0 deficit was enough to stun the Bulls into action and they duly responded two minutes later thanks to a delightful score as Gale, Jeffries and Kearney all combined to send Platt galloping over from ten metres out.
Gale failed to convert but the try breathed life into the Bulls and a penalty soon gave them the field position to build more pressure on the Widnes line.
The same protagonists were involved again as Platt threatened to finish off a similar move and moments later L’Estrange’s short pass found Jamie Langley .
The loose forward was held up but the opportunity hinted at the possibilities on offer for the Bulls.
The atmosphere was decidedly flat, though, and grew worse when Widnes claimed their third try in the 22nd minute.
Craven collected possession on Bradford’s 40-metre line, spotted a gap inside the right channel and went for it.
He showed stunning speed to outstrip Kearney and Bryn Hargreaves to scamper clear into the right corner for a fine individual try.
But four minutes later the Bulls fashioned another highly impressive response.
Keith Lulia embarked on a trademark surge from his left centre berth, driving at the heart of the Widnes defence before showing intelligence to send the supporting Kearney racing clear from 20 metres.
It was so typical of the many tries Kearney has scored this season but Lulia’s team-mates were quick to congratulate him for another quality assist.
Gale’s conversion cut Widnes’ lead to six points and another fine break from Lulia on the half-hour mark led to another period of sustained Bradford pressure.
Gale and Jeffries continued to dovetail effectively with L’Estrange and Manase Manuokafoa came off the bench to make his giant frame felt.
Two minutes later, an exquisite long pass from Jeffries sent Ainscough plunging over in the right corner for a fine try which Gale converted superbly as the Bulls hauled themselves level at 16-16.
He did brilliantly to break from inside his own half and find Kearney, typically, racing forward in support.
The full back may have had the legs to go all the way on his own but his clever pass to his left sent the unmarked Jeffries racing over from 20 metres out and Gale added the conversion.
Widnes steadied themselves and a teasing grubber kick from Hanbury forced the Bulls to drop out on the stroke of half-time, which led to Hanbury powering over right on the hooter.
He was unfortunate to see his conversion rebound off an upright, meaning the Bulls took a slender 22-20 advantage into the break.
They began the second half in encouraging fashion and Widnes survived an early second-half battering.
Widnes then lost replacement Kurt Haggerty after he picked up a heavy knock but they went close when Stefan Marsh’s pass looked to have sent Willie Isa over in the right corner.
Widnes, to their credit, continued to enjoy spurts of pressure, only for handling errors to undermine their promising approach work.
In the 57th minute, the crucial first score of the second half arrived and it went in the Bulls’ favour as L’Estrange squeezed over from acting half.
Gale added the extras and Platt then touched down for his second before Widnes handed themselves a lifeline when Ah Van went over in the left corner for his second.
Gale’s drop goal attempt then rebounded off a post and was collected by the predatory Kearney, who touched down, but no try was awarded after he was ruled offside by Ganson.
But the Odsal faithful were soon celebrating when Ainscough dived over the line from close range and Gale booted his fifth goal.