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Travel-slick Bradford Bulls produce stunning comeback to beat Hull KR
Hull KR 24 Bradford Bulls 36
Bradford Bulls hadn’t won three straight Super League matches away from home since the first time they missed out on the Stobart Super League play-offs in 2009.
And when they trailed Hull KR 12-0 at Craven Park on a beautiful spring evening on Saturday, it looked highly unlikely that they would add to their wins at Castleford and Wakefield.
However, having gone on to be 24-8 behind as deep into the match as the 52nd minute, Mick Potter’s men turned the contest around in scintillating fashion to triumph 36-24.
A flurry of 28 unanswered points – including two more tries from Jason Crookes to complete his hat-trick – meant they equalled their victory sequence of London Broncos, Huddersfield and Hull of three years ago and nicely set up the Bulls’ fourth successive Sky TV Saturday clash next weekend when they host wavering St Helens.
There was a terrific atmosphere at Craven Park after a beautifully-observed minute’s silence in memory of the six soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan earlier in the week, including Bulls fan Private Chris Kershaw from Eccleshill.
But the visitors then did nothing to silence the Robins’ faithful, not having a set until almost nine minutes were on the clock, by which time Rovers were 12-0 ahead and looking like adding to their tally against a porous Bulls defence.
Crookes had to concede a goal-line drop-out before Rovers skipper Michael Dobson’s neat diagonal kick put the lively Kris Welham in for a try which the former converted.
Brett Kearney’s high tackle on Robins full back Shannon McDonnell put the visitors back on the defensive and Tongan international Mickey Paea bull-dozed his way over for a try in the sixth minute, Dobson again tagging on the extras.
With McDonnell a threat every time he got the ball and Rovers having the greater agility in general, the Bulls were in danger of suffering a Craven Park collapse, as they had in 2010 (49-24) and 2011 (46-8).
But with the odd chink appearing in the Robins’ armoury, Kearney broke 70 metres upfield in the 20th minute to properly lift the siege.
It was disappointing for Bulls fans that the full back couldn’t go all the way, being hauled down by loose forward Josh Hodgson, but the visitors did prosper seconds later when Crookes showed his balletic skills to go over in the tightest of spaces in the left corner.
Goal-line drop-outs were not quite the advantage they normally are, such distance did Rovers’ Craig Hall put on the ball, but the Bulls got back in the game when Ben Jeffries’ testing bomb was palmed forward by Welham into the waiting arms of Danny Addy, who easily put Karl Pryce over for a try in his first start for the Bulls since 2006.
Nick Scruton, who missed the Warrington match because of the birth of his first child George, had replaced Tongan giant Manase Manuokafoa in the 14th minute but only lasted 19 minutes before suffering a possible shoulder dislocation.
It then took three Rovers defenders to prevent Pryce from scoring a second try, and a well-weighted grubber kick by Addy forced a third goal-line drop-out by Rovers as the tide seemed to turn.
However, a high tackle by centre Keith Lulia on McDonnell gave Rovers some respite and they cashed in with a Hodgson try after a scampering, side-stepping Dobson run, the latter’s conversion coming on the half-time hooter.
Surely Bradford needed the first try of the second half to gain a further foothold in an entertaining contest – but instead it went to the hosts.
A great break by Welham put Hall over for a try on his 100th career appearance, Dobson again proving unerring with the conversion.
Jarrod Sammut was penalised for use of an elbow in a tackle and only a forward-pass ruling denied Graeme Horne a try as Rovers threatened to put too much distance between themselves and the Bulls.
But Matt Diskin’s side are full of graft, skill and belief these days and a strong run by impressive teenager John Bateman was rewarded with a second Crookes try, the winger this time using his strength to reach the whitewash.
Sammut’s goal cut the deficit to ten points with 27 minutes left but, when Kearney was unable to capitalise on another break after he somehow came up with the ball among a posse of Rovers attackers, and home centre Jake Webster was denied a try by video referee Richard Silverwood because Rhys Lovegrove grounded his ball-carrying arm before giving the final pass, it still seemed like Rovers would hang on.
Two quick penalties put the Bulls in the right area of the field, however, and Crookes’ delicate diagonal kick infield gave Diskin the chance to show his will to win, the skipper grabbing the ball from the clutches of Lovegrove to score.
Sammut’s cool conversion made it 24-20 and the clutch of Bulls fans behind the posts then got a great view of Elliott Whitehead’s break that put Kearney over for the converted try that gave Bradford the lead at 26-24 with 14 minutes remaining.
With Pryce and Manuokofoa showing increasingly sure means of running the ball out of defence and Dobson being given no time or space, play was increasingly in the Rovers half.
Chev Walker’s try was rightly ruled out because of some off-the-ball obstruction by Jeffries but, with Diskin orchestrating affairs, Rovers would not be let off the hook.
Crookes’ hat-trick try came courtesy of a quality back-door pass by Lulia, the winger still fumbling the ball before diving to catch it and go over in the same motion.
And, just to put the seal on the Bulls ruining Rovers’ unbeaten 2012 home record and ending their bid for a fifth successive Craven Park success over the visitors, Lulia went over in the 79th minute after Pryce’s interception had put Mick Potter’s side on the front foot.