Hull FC 24 Bradford Bulls 18
Nobody seems quite sure what the future holds for Bradford Bulls, least of all the 17 players who took the field for the club last night.
Traumatic does not do justice to the past few days, as a rugby league institution and a city have been forced to consider the grim thought that there may not be a Bulls for much longer.
The cash has run out, but not the spirit which underpins the club.
Not the kind of desire which has seen fans and ex-players spend the past four days rallying around the Bulls in their hour of need.
Almost £200,000 had been raised at close of play yesterday.
That tells you something.
It tells you there is a collective desire to ensure this proud club does not die.
That kind of belligerence was evident among Mick Potter’s players and the visiting supporters at the KC Stadium.
“Stand if you love the Bulls,” was the cry from the away end.
The players, who along with the rest of the club’s staff face a nervous wait to see if they will be paid next month, dug deep.
They largely matched Hull FC, only to be undone when Tom Briscoe went over in the left corner with ten minutes remaining.
That was harsh on Potter’s men, who deserved a share of the spoils at least.
Yet there was much that everyone of a Bradford persuasion could be proud of last night.
Club employees collected outside the KC Stadium before kick-off and the supporters who made the trek along the M62 sang themselves hoarse.
The Bulls, bolstered by the return of Olivier Elima and Adrian Purtell, began brightly and did not seem distracted.
Matt Diskin immediately had the Bulls on the front foot with some meticulous dummy running which culminated in Brett Kearney kicking forward on the last tackle.
Yet Hull came back strongly as skipper Andy Lynch, afforded a warm round of applause by the Bulls fans when his name was read out on the public address
system beforehand, drove the hosts forward.
A teasing kick from Danny Addy, deployed at stand-off, kicked forward with intelligence, led to a Hull scrum which saw the hosts come forward and test
Kearney with a high kick that he fielded with aplomb.
Moments later, a sweeping move saw the Black and Whites work the ball swiftly from right to left with a bewildering array of inter-passing which threatened to cut Bradford apart.
French referee Thierry Alibert had spotted a forward pass in the sequence anyway but Hull soon led after a series of drives through the middle culminated in Lynch’s delicate offload finding Richard
Horne, deployed at full back last night, scampered clear from 30 metres past a clutch of Bradford defenders, with Kearney’s desperate last-ditch lunge unable to prevent him crossing the line.
Danny Tickle added the extras but the Bulls, roared on by their vociferous followers, soon steadied themselves and fashioned a highly impressive response.
It came in the 16th minute when Elliott Whitehead intercepted an errant pass from a home defender on Hull’s 30-metre line.
The back-rower collected possession and showed the hosts a clean pair of heels, but not quite quick enough, as he was tackled when he probably should have sent the supporting Adrian Purtell racing
Nevertheless, the Bulls continued to probe and were rewarded moments later when John Bateman’s good work inside the left channel saw him find Keith Lulia.
The Cook Islands international showed outstanding dexterity and strength to power through a series of challenges and plunge over from close range.
Jarrod Sammut added the extras and the noise from the away end became ever more audible.
Potter’s men then enjoyed a period of sustained pressure, asking several searching questions of the home defence, which saw Kearney’s high crossfield kick cause havoc.
Hull survived and then hit the Bulls with a vicious sucker-punch midway through the first half when second-rower Willie Manu collected possession from around 20 metres out.
His neat footwork and pace took him past Diskin and over the line for a try which Tickle converted.
Diskin punched the ground in anger at failing to make his tackle and the Bulls were suddenly on the back foot.
Heath L’Estrange replaced Diskin moments later at hooker and Manase Manuokafoa went off in place of Olivier Elima.
L’Estrange made his presence felt straight away, showing skill and speed around the ruck, while Addy’s confidence with the ball in hand offered the Bulls an excellent attacking outlet.
Elima’s good work led to Kearney almost going under the posts before he was taken out by a Hull defender, resulting in a penalty and another set of six.
That led to Elima sending the onrushing Kearney over from close range but Alibert ruled out the score for an earlier obstruction.
Bradford began the second half with aggression and purpose, and their approach was rewarded in the 45th minute when Addy flighted another high kick into the right corner.
Hull wing Tom Briscoe, under pressure from Bradford players, spilled the ball and Pryce grounded in front of the delighted visiting supporters.
Sammut kicked the conversion, tying the scores at 12-12, and encouraging hopes among the visiting players and fans that victory was theirs for the taking.
Kearney was then caught with a big hit by Manu to raise the decibel levels among the home supporters but the Bulls again came back strongly.
They came within inches of scoring on the hour mark when Kearney looked to have touched down a kick under the posts.
His efforts fell just short.
However, Horne went over from acting half in the 57th minute to put Hull back in front and Tickle kicked his third goal.
Yet Bradford hit back again when Sammut showed brilliant hands to find Bateman inside the left channel and he scampered clear for a try which Sammut converted to level the scores at 18-18. Cue
delirium in the away end after a stunning passing sequence.
Once again, life surged through the Bulls but, once again, Hull regained the lead when Briscoe finished in clinical fashion in the left corner after the Bradford defence was stretched.
Tickle then added a late penalty to put Hull 24-18 up and confirm a fifth straight win for the Black and Whites.