Catalan 8, Bulls 8

The Bulls simply do not lose in France. No matter what the circumstances, nor the adversity staring them in the face, Bradford seem to have a knack of picking up the result in Perpignan.

Despite arriving at the Stade Gilbert Brutus on the back of three straight defeats – including a bruising derby loss to Leeds Rhinos just four days previously – and with a slew of serious injuries, they still went home with a point.

The Bulls have never lost a league game on the Dragons’ home soil, the only blot on the copybook being a Challenge Cup collapse in 2009, and even the absence of playmaker-in-chief Brett Kearney could not change that.

Despite seeing the Aussie ruled out for six to eight weeks with a broken hand, the Bulls fixed up and went on.

Paul Sykes put in a performance full of effort and desire at stand-off, while there was an encouraging sight at loose forward where 17-year-old John Bateman made his debut.

There was undoubtedly a patched-up look to the side, with Jamie Langley, Nick Scruton, Dave Halley, Tom Burgess and Danny Addy also absent, but they never once shirked the task at hand.

In many ways, a draw was as good as a win in the circumstances.

Bradford’s start was far from perfect, a quality kick from Thomas Bosc putting the them on the back foot from the very first set.

They were not helped any when a penalty was conceded for offside and Scott Dureau received a quick ball from Ian Henderson at dummy half to slice an angled line straight through the right-edge defence.

Luckily, the video referee had a problem with the grounding.

Despite their good fortune, Bradford appeared trapped in their own end until a booming left-footed kick from Sykes caught the wind and Ben Farrar dropped it.

Still, much like the Dragons, a lack of precision let them down, Marc Herbert losing the ball in contact after both Andy Lynch and Craig Kopczak had been held up short.

Another chance reared its head when Sebastien Raguin was penalised for holding down close to his own try-line but, again, a handling error proved costly and this time punishment was forthcoming.

Bradford were pinged twice in quick succession as they struggled to prevent Catalan from driving downfield and Dureau set up Farrar with a beautifully delayed pass.

The Aussie full back looked to have held on too long when he ignored the overlap but still managed to bounce off a tackle from Michael Platt to score, Dureau converting.

It seemed to set the stage for a dominant Dragons display but the Bulls actually responded with vigour, enjoying a couple of decent opportunities to level the scores.

Herbert’s boot was the main source of the hosts’ worries, a grubber to the corner narrowly evading Chev Walker before a neat kick dropped in behind the defensive line was knocked on by Olivier Elima.

But chances came and chances went and the sin-binning of Sykes on 27 minutes seemed to make life an awful lot more difficult.

Strangely though, the Bulls made light of their numerical disadvantage, muscling up well to frustrate the Dragons and earning reward when Sebastien Martins was sin-binned himself after a string of offences.

It took Bradford just a minute to dole out punishment, Heath L’Estrange squirming through the goal-line defence from dummy half. Patrick Ah Van’s conversion made it all-square.

Desperate defence from Shad Royston and L’Estrange denied Cyril Stacul a try at the end of a swashbuckling sequence of play and another escape followed shortly after the interval.

A superb half-break and offload from Jason Baitieri created space out wide but, rather than use the overlap, Raguin opted to kick to the corner and the ball skidded harmlessly into touch.

But they were not so lucky when Steve Crossley was caught laying on in the tackle too long right in front of his own posts, giving Dureau an easily kickable penalty for 8-6.

Despite their misfortune, the Bulls could – and probably should – have provided a swift response.

Handed repeat sets on the Catalan line, they probed endlessly but still could not find a way through, Elliott Whitehead denied by a stunning last-gasp tackle after racing onto Herbert’s inside ball.

Bradford’s scrum half then came close to gaining reward for a bold last-tackle play inside his own half, feigning the kick before darting through a gap and chipping ahead. The Dragons defence reacted in the nick of time to prevent him breaking clear.

But moments later, they could not prevent Sykes and Royston making an excellent break and paid a heavy price.

Gregory Mounis was sin-binned for holding down Royston after making the tackle and Ah Van kicked the resultant penalty to make it 8-8.

Once more, numerical advantage seemed to count for little though and Dureau missed a 40-metre penalty attempt as both sides struggled to push themselves over the edge.

Royston came close to providing the game-breaking play with a stunning intervention that turned defence to attack in a flash.

Sliding in to collect a Bosc grubber milliseconds before Setaimata Sa could pounce for the try, he broke 30 metres before a timely tap-tackle from former Bull Henderson denied him.

Similar to Dureau, Ah Van missed a pressure penalty attempt from 30 metres before Royston made an excellent tackle on Bosc to save his side’s bacon once more.

A thrilling finale followed, with tensions threatening to spill over on a few occasions when players became involved in glorified shoving matches.

Both Dureau and Sykes missed drop goals but Catalan were handed a string of chances to seal victory.

A scrum in the Bradford half with less than a minute to play seemed to provide their big chance but incredible defensive pressure, including a thumping tackle from Sykes, ensured the Dragons were kept at bay.

The proud record remains for at least another year.

Attendance: 8,946