Bradford Bulls 24 Newcastle Thunder 4

“YOU walk in to Odsal and feel that gladiatorial element,” said chairman Andrew Chalmers on the eve of the Bulls’ first dip into the third tier.

“I’m sure the club’s attitude will be to put the opposition to the sword.”

For League One opponents this season, visits to Odsal have felt akin to a date with the lions in the Roman colosseum.

Newcastle were added to the list of victims last night – but looked far from overawed by the big arena.

Six months on from Chalmers’ words, the Bulls maintained their perfect home record and made it 11 wins on the bounce.

But the Thunder left with their heads high after a dogged effort which frustrated their hosts for lengthy spells.

This was not the points-fest that Odsal has become accustomed to.

Defences were very much on top in the lowest-scoring game that the Bulls have been involved in all year.

It was the first time they had failed to pass the half-century mark at home since Good Friday – but the victory, however hard earned, still increases the lead at the top to four points.

That may only be temporary but it turns up the pressure on York, who host Doncaster tomorrow.

The Odsal showdown with the Knights in a fortnight’s time is looming large. “Within reach” proclaims the club’s Twitter site, although there is another tricky hurdle to negotiate at third-placed Hunslet next week before a game that most view as the season definer.

Never one to underplay the opposition, Kear had warned the Bulls not to be fooled by Newcastle’s mid-table position. On this evidence, he was quite right to do so.

Jason Payne’s Thunder gave them an almighty scare in the north-east in May – and the Bulls coach was in the crowd at Bootham Crescent last Sunday to see them push York all the way.

Newcastle arrived at Odsal minus the considerable dual threat of Lewis Young, who Kear views as one of the best talents in League One, and Theerapol Ritson through injury.

But just like before, they were determined to give as good as they got.

The Thunder showed real defensive tenacity in the opening stages to hold off three sets in front of their goalline – only to then concede a soft score in the eighth minute.

Joe Keyes hoisted a kick towards the posts which Dane Chisholm claimed too easily and slipped round the defender to canter in.

Newcastle were having to get through a lot of work to keep the Bulls at bay – they had done nothing but tackle in the opening quarter of an hour.

They weren’t helped when Joseph Brown, under little pressure, coughed up another Keyes kick near his line. On the opposite wing, Mo Agoro’s attempts to stop Ethan Ryan saw a clash of heads and the Bulls man went straight off as a precaution.

The visitors remained pinned in their half but the Bulls seemed to lack ideas close to the line, other than busting down the middle or kicking for holes.

They needed something inventive to find a gap – and got it just after the midway point of the half as Keyes showed clever hands to reverse the play from a Sam Hallas pass for Brandon Pickersgill to race through with an angled burst for the try.

Newcastle had offered little attacking threat up to that point but then scored from the first real foray towards the Bulls try line. Adam Brook’s kick bounced kindly for Castleford dual-reg centre Kieran Gill to touch down.

Tom Shaw pulled the goal attempt wide left before Ryan re-entered the fray with a bandage wound tightly and liberally around his head. “Returning to the field is the Phantom of the Opera,” joked the announcer to the appreciation of the terrace.

As half-time approached, Newcastle were penalised once more in their own half for holding down. Kear got the message on to take the two and Chisholm’s trusty boot restored the double-figure advantage.

Newcastle continued to defend for their lives as Keyes was held up on the line and then Agoro batted away a kick aimed at the “phantom” Ryan before the hooter sounded.

Having done so much defending in the heat, the Thunder could have been expected to wilt as the game wore on. But instead they began the second half with an extra zip.

Evan Simons was held up a fraction short and it was the visitors asking the questions as the Bulls found themselves frustrated. They were forced to drop out twice in the first 10 minutes and were looking a bit rattled.

Brook, the former Bull on loan from Halifax, was pulling the Thunder strings and keeping his former club on the back foot.

They did break out when Dalton Grant put Pickersgill into open field but his pass to Ryan midway inside the Newcastle half went to ground.

Chisholm got the Odsal faithful going again with an explosive run through a gap – which was halted illegally by Tyler Craig’s high shot. Having been chopped down in full flow, the Aussie got up to slot over the two points as the Newcastle centre was banished to the sin bin.

But even down a man, Newcastle would not go away. Shaw was held up by four defenders and Rhys Clarke dropped the ball over the line in the process of grounding it.

With no sign of Newcastle falling away, tempers briefly flared with a spot of “handbags” after a scrum. The home crowd, used to seeing the Bulls rack up big points as the games wore on, were also getting edgy at the growing number of errors and lack of speed to the play.

Apart from two breaks from deep in their own half, Bradford had not created much attacking-wise since changing ends. But for all the ball that Newcastle were enjoying, they too had little to show for it.

A mass effort to bundle Gill out of play 10 metres out on the first tackle was celebrated as eagerly as a try by the home defence.

Chisholm at least doubled the scoring for the second half with another penalty, 18 minutes after the previous one.

Having claimed 16 points himself, the scrum half bagged another assist in the closing stages – his kick was grabbed at the second attempt by Ryan for his league-leading 19th try.

BULLS: Pickersgill 7, Ryan 7, Oakes 6, Gibson 6, Grant 7, Keyes 8, Chisholm 7, Crossley 7, Hallas 7, Bustin 7, Minchella 6, Laithwaite 7, Wood 6. Interchange: Kirk 6, Halafihi 6, Garside 7, Peltier 7.

NEWCASTLE: Dent 6, Agoro 7, Gill 6, Craig 6, Brown 7, Shaw 6, Brook 8, McAvoy 6, Pointer 7, Aldous 6, Clarke 6, Ollett 6, Luckley 6. Interchange: Cator 7, Simons 6, Rennie 6, Fitzsimmons 6.