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Mick Potter hailed as ‘coach of year’ as Bradford Bulls again dig deep to bag two more points in pursuit of play-offs
Bradford Bulls 32, Hull KR 26
Sam Tomkins tweeted earlier this week that Bradford making the play-offs would eclipse any of the top four sides winning the Grand Final.
Better than lifting the Super League trophy, Sam? Are you sure?
There will be those who will query the claims of England’s best player but surely nobody in Bradford.
And certainly nobody who witnessed an emotionally fraught night at Odsal . Another one.
The Bulls’ dream moved a step closer towards reality after a powerful second-half display saw them overturn Hull KR’s interval lead to claim a priceless victory.
That it was Jamie Langley who should play such a pivotal role in the success was apt, for the loose forward is the club’s longest-serving player and has seen it all during his time at Odsal.
His two superb tries were a knife through the heart of Craig Sandercock’s team and were just reward for his tireless display.
Do not overlook the significance of Jason Crookes ’ delightful finish on his return to the side, nor the quality of Keith Lulia’s assist.
But this was yet another richly-deserved team effort that was chiselled on collective spirit, sheer bloody-mindedness and a visible desire to achieve a fairytale finish to this most traumatic of seasons.
The Bulls are now level on points with the Robins with three games remaining and, crucially, they have momentum.
That is a priceless asset.
Mick Potter was last night being talked up as Super League coach of the year.
That said everything.
Surely he will now see the job through until the end of the season?
Time will tell but there is no denying that the Bulls could be on the verge of something very special.
They were boosted by the return of Crookes and joint-captain Matt Diskin .
Crookes started on the left flank at the expense of Karl Pryce and Diskin began on the bench as back-up for Heath L’Estrange.
Crookes had not featured for the first-team since sustaining a shoulder injury during the defeat at Hull FC on March 30, which came in the week that the Bulls revealed they were in the midst of a financial crisis.
Much has happened since that seismic announcement by Peter Hood and Andrew Bennett on the front page of the Telegraph & Argus.
Yet the spirit and togetherness that has created a special bond between these players has remained strong.
They keep on fighting. They still believe. They will not surrender.
And their argument looks increasingly compelling.
Looking at the respective team-sheets before kick-off, it was hard not to feel that the Bulls had a clear edge, both in terms of attacking firepower and strength up front.
A fine kick from Luke Gale inside the opening minute immediately had Rovers on the back foot, forcing them back inside their own ten-metre line.
Yet Rovers came back strongly with referee James Child awarding them three penalties in quick succession, the last of which was converted by Michael Dobson in the fourth minute after Gale’s high tackle.
A high hanging kick from Dobson was then expertly fielded by Brett Kearney before he was caught late by Josh Hodgson, giving the Bulls a penalty and some much-needed early respite.
That allowed them to regain field position and led to Tom Olbison embarking on a searing break inside the left channel.
The second-rower showed intelligence to find the ever-willing Kearney in support before Rovers centre Liam Salter made a fine saving tackle.
When Dobson had the ball in his hands, Rovers looked dangerous. But the Bulls had threats all over the park, with L’Estrange, Gale and Ben Jeffries combining to good effect once more and the home pack again laying an impressive platform.
Shaun Ainscough , confidence still coursing through his veins after two tries against Widnes last weekend, looked lively again.
In the 14th minute, Rovers full back Louis Sheriff showed outstanding pace to embark on a surging run down the right flank which almost took him over the line.
His progress was halted by Kearney and moments later the Bulls forced the visitors to drop out after good work from Lulia.
The Bulls immediately made Rovers pay as Jeffries’ neat short pass allowed Langley to power over the line for a try which Gale converted with ease.
Three minutes later, and on the back of some concerted Rovers pressure, Scott Taylor barrelled over from close range for a try awarded after deliberation from video referee Robert Hicks.
Dobson converted and Manase Manuokafoa then replaced Craig Kopczak before the Bulls claimed their second try of the game in exhilarating fashion.
Gale’s kick was caught and grounded by Ainscough in the right corner and the winger outfoxed Sheriff before touching down for a try he celebrated with gusto.
Gale converted in style to put the Bulls 12-8 in front before Rovers old boy Chev Walker came off the bench to make his presence felt, flattening James Green with an implacable challenge.
Rovers are a gusty side but their strengths are based more on perspiration than genuine inspiration. Yet with Dobson pulling the strings, they remain dangerous and eight minutes before the break he was at the heart of a move which cut Bradford apart.
Taking a pass from Ben Galea 20 metres out, Dobson spotted the onrushing David Hodgson to his left and, as Michael Platt flew out of the defensive line, the winger scampered into the corner.
Dobson applied a fine conversion and the visitors began to the turn the screw on their hosts as the interval approached.
“One Mick Potter,” came the cry from the Bulls fans, as if to rally their team as Rovers took a slender 14-12 advantage into the break.
Moments after the resumption, the Bulls lost Olbison to injury after a challenge from Green which led to him being placed on report.
Walker and Gale then orchestrated a promising move which led to the ball being played out to Crookes on the left flank but the opportunity amounted to nothing.
Another teasing kick from Gale into the left corner required some smart defensive work from Sam Latus with Crookes looming.
Child’s decision-making constantly incurred the wrath of the Bulls fans, who chanted “you’re not fit to referee”.
But they were off their feet in the 54th minute after some brilliant work from Lulia, who collected possession inside the left channel and produced a stunning hand-off and delightful reverse pass to send Crookes plunging over in the left corner despite the challenge of Latus.
The decision again went to the video referee but there was no doubting the validity of the score from Crookes , who had scored a hat-trick at Craven Park earlier in the season, and Gale’s conversion put the Bulls 18-14 in front.
Two minutes later, Langley showed brute force to collect a superb pass from Manuokafoa, fend off a challenge from Sheriff and race over the line.
Gale added both goals to put his side ten points clear but Rovers struck back on 63 minutes when Salter crossed wide out for his side’s third try.
Bradford finally made the game safe when Gale broke clean through the first line of defence and Elliott Whitehead was in support to score their fifth try.
Gale kicked his fifth conversion and added a penalty before winger Craig Hall grabbed a last-minute consolation try for the visitors, with Dobson kicking his fifth goal.