Bradford Bulls 14 Halifax 21 

BRADFORD Bulls' Summer Bash evening ended pleasureless in Blackpool after falling to defeat at the hands of local rivals Halifax.

But, Kear’s men weren’t donkeys in a game where the momentum shifted more than the coin pushers in the seaside town's arcades.

The Bulls in fact moved into the lead no less than three times during the first half, sending a travelling army of over 2000 into raptures.

But it wasn’t enough with the Halifax players towering over the cup killers in the final 15 minutes to run out 21-14 victors at Bloomfield Road.

Bulls were hoping to avoid a hangover from last weekend’s Coral Challenge Cup success, which came on the back of a taxing transatlantic trip to Toronto.

Their performance, and subsequent victory, against Super League Leeds Rhinos was nothing short of spectacular, thrilling and euphoric for the players and fans alike.

But the superlatives will run dry if Kear and his troops can’t start to make it count in the league.

The Bulls run of five straight league wins in a row came to an abrupt halt on May 4 when Toronto showed the league they mean business.

That meant, before the run of games on the Saturday of the Summer Bash, Bradford sat just outside the play-off spots and knew two points were vital to keep pace in the tightest of promotion races.

They had a big opportunity against a Halifax side who they’d already beat in the league on Good Friday.

But, Kear would have been wary of a team in a resurgent mood after seeing their fortunes improve following the resignation of head coach Richard Marshall at the end of April.

Since then, Halifax had sealed victory in their last three – in cup and league – under the stewardship of Simon Grix prior to the Bash.

Their own Challenge Cup success has set up a tasty encounter at Odsal in two weeks’ time.

That will mark the second of three games between the two sides in quick succession, so this latest fixture was as much a mental battle as it was on the pitch.

It was always going to boil down to small margins, and there was passion and tension aplenty from both sides.

This wasn't a game of squeaky-clean play and tries; it was all about the grit and determination in front of a strong crowd willing them on.

The first half was the one to watch as both sides grappled with each other, with the pendulum swinging both ways.

Bulls raced into an early lead, and they had the athleticism of winger David Foggin-Johnston to thank for that.

The youngster has impressed ever since coming in to cover for the injured Jy Hitchcox and he took his try tally to three for the season.

Bradford worked it well across to the left, but Foggin-Johnston still had a lot to do with the Halifax defence remaining stubborn – a theme for the whole match.

The winger charged on though and dived high and mighty over the approaching arms, managing to plant the ball down right in the corner.

Minchella couldn’t add the extras though and just three minutes later a defensive mistake from the Bulls cost them dearly.

Halifax played a big bomb, high and heavy, from around 20 metres out.

It wasn't dealt with by Dalton Grant, and Halifax were able to palm the ball back, where it bobbled around the Bulls five-metre line.

Former Bradford player Ben Kavanagh then swooped in during the chaos to score an easy try under the posts.

Halifax kicker Stephen Tyrer did what Minchella couldn’t and converted to make it 6-4.

Buoyed by going ahead, Halifax came at the Bulls with some fast, vicious play but Steve Crossley was particularly impressive in holding firm.

Resolute defence was soon turned into powerful attack, when the Bulls took the lead again after 15 minutes.

It looked as if the chance had gone when Grant was smothered deep on the right-wing.

But the winger persevered and battled through the Halifax defenders to score over the line as a mass of bodies collapsed on him.

Minchella proved his shooting boots just needed dusting off from earlier and curved a beautiful conversion in from wide right to make it 10-6.

The Bulls stalwart really got into his groove then and shooting boots became dancing shoes when he tip-toed across the Halifax line deep in their 10-metre zone.

But Minchella looked to be held up over the line despite protestations that he should have had a penalty.

Halifax came with a kick-in-the-teeth following that passage of play too, when impressive full-back Quentin Laulu Togagae scored after some great link up with Scott Grix and Elliott Morris.

Late in the half came the second moment of controversy involving referee Tom Grant.

Halifax winger Will Sharp had great momentum on the right-wing and charged 20 metres before looking to have successfully planted the ball down.

The ref chalked it off though - ruling he had touched down short of the line - and two earlier penalty goals from Minchella meant the Bulls went into the break with a narrow 14-12 lead.

A moment of humour erupted from that late controversial decision.

The Halifax fans let out a roar when they thought Sharp had scored; the Bulls army then responded with ironic cheers of their own when the try was overturned.

This was to be repaid later in the second half though, when Ethan Ryan had a try overturned and the roles were reversed.

Bulls controlled much of that second period but couldn’t stretch their advantage and that proved crucial on 65 minutes.

Halifax, against the run of play, managed to break the Bulls line for the first time as Togagae showed great feet to skip past Ryan.

The Bulls full back hadn’t put a foot wrong until that point, but Togagae’s presence of mind allowed him to play the ball into acres of space for the on-rushing Morris who put it down under the posts.

You’d be a fool to write this Bradford side off, particularly considering they scored 21 unanswered points in the last 20 minutes to come back in that Good Friday game.

But, it wasn’t to be with a 70th minute penalty goal from Tyrer and a late drop-goal from Scott Murrell killing the game off as the last ten minutes opened up.

Tensions flared at the closing point of the match, with a brawl breaking out on halfway after Grix had lost the ball.

That was the final action of the game, and it was clear Bradford’s frustration at the way the match had turned was physically manifesting itself on the pitch.

It was a tie with little illumination in Blackpool, but what fans did witness was two promotion-chasing sides going hammer and tongs at each other to try secure the win.

As things stand this season, it’s one apiece between the two teams and it remains to be seen whether Halifax will have the mental edge now going into that all-important quarter-final.

What is certain is the Bulls need to bounce back against a tough Featherstone side next week to ensure the play-offs don't slide out of view.