BRADFORD Bulls are licking their wounds after being humbled in their heaviest defeat of the season.

John Kear’s men failed to build on last week’s return to winning ways, losing 52-20 to Leigh Centurions.

Time is running out for the Bulls to generate momentum in the race for Betfred Championship promotion and a damning defeat across the Pennines at Leigh Centurions is yet another setback.

This was a battle for the rose, but more importantly a massive four-pointer in the red-hot Betfred Championship promotion chase.

The Odsal outfit are now four points adrift of their Lancashire rivals and the hopes of a top-five finish could fade away if the Bulls continue to blow hot and cold.

Kear’s came into this one as somewhat underdogs, despite beating Leigh at home earlier in the season.

The Centurions had marched to five wins in their last six before welcoming the Bulls to their territory.

But, after Swinton Lions' shock 20-18 victory across the channel at Toulouse on Saturday, there was certainly magic in the air and that result proved that anything can happen in the Championship.

There’s no time like the present to show the rest of the division what you’re about and Kear said in the week that his boys were going to prove they mean business heading into a tough run of fixtures.

The Bulls certainly put in plenty of effort during the match, but it was a tale of rued chances and the lack of a clinical nature from the visitors.

It started well for the Bulls, with Jordan Lilley hitting a penalty goal in the eighth minute to take his side into a slender, early lead.

Leigh responded two minutes later though, when the usually stoic Bulls defence buckled.

Iain Thornley was able to collect a high ball in a gap that opened between Ethan Ryan and Dalton Grant and planted the oval over the line for an easy try.

The conversion took it to 6-2, but the Bulls must have thought it was going to be their day when Sam Brooks was sent to the bin in the 12th minute for dissent.

That was to become a theme of the match, with no less than 22 penalties throughout the match, much of those in the Bulls favour.

The visitors looked to turn the screw, but the first of three missed opportunities for Bulls in the game saw a cruel shift in momentum.

Liam Kirk shimmied over the line and seemed to have the ball down, but the referee gave Leigh the restart on their 20-metre line as the ball was dislodged as the Bulls player went down.

Moments later, Leigh forced the first goal-line drop-out of the match and from that had their second try through Costello, with Foggin-Johnston caught out of position.

Bulls showed Yorkshire grit though and scored arguably the best try of the match to take it to 12-8 with Lilley converting.

Ryan collected a kick on his 10-metre line and somehow managed to charge through the stubborn Leigh defensive line and off he went like a rocket.

After making around 50 metres, full-back met full-back, but Ryan had the presence of mind to square it to Wildie who still have a lot to do.

He then showed pace and strength to run on around 35 metres to secure the points under the posts.

But Bulls were hit with a sucker punch in a frantic final two minutes before the break.

The visitors were trying to take the initiative in the game, after a 30th-minute penalty goal from Martyn Ridyard made it 14-8.

Then, from the smallest of mistakes by Lilley as Bulls piled on the pressure, Gregg McNally was able to take advantage and scooped up the loose ball on his 20-metre line.

He broke through the Bulls line and charged forward 80 metres and just could not be caught, scoring a try near the posts.

That was added to by a late Ridyard penalty goal to make it 22-8, with the Bulls heading into the break in a perilous position.

Bulls came out with a bit between their teeth though after half-time and showed promise in some fast, firm attacks.

With the pressure on the Leigh line, yet more penalties were given away and the hosts had another player in the bin come the 45th minute.

This time it was McNally, who was proving to be a nuisance for the Bulls line, who was given the 10-minute punishment for a high challenge on George Flanagan who made a superb run across the Leigh line, deep in their half.

Another chance went begging for the Bulls when Peltier charged under the posts but was deemed to have dropped the ball in putting it down.

He earned redemption when setting up the enigmatic Flanagan for the first try of the second period.

Peltier bulleted through in the 10-metre zone, taking the attention of three players, before off-loading neatly to Flanagan who had the easy job of diving over for the try under the posts.

Lilley added the extras to make it 22-14 with 28 minutes to go, setting up the potential for the comebacks of all comebacks.

That, however, didn’t come to fruition and instead a Leigh onslaught began.

Kear spoke in the lead up to the game about Leigh’s attacking prowess, saying his side’s home victory was their second-best defensive showing of the season.

Leigh are in the top six for points scored (436) and are certainly potent in offence.

But more importantly, the hosts had hit 30 or more points in exactly half of their games before this one, losing none of those fixtures.

When the Centurions put points on the board, they often conquer.

That was the case here, with Andy Thornley doing what his brother did in the first half, to add to another Ridyard penalty goal four minutes earlier.

Thornley saw little resistance when he skipped, jumped and hopped forward, just over the arm of a Bulls defender to sprint free for the try.

There did come a potentially turning point in the one-way traffic, but the Bulls failed to capitalise.

On the 66th minute mark, Ryan chipped a deft kick through the Leigh line after some extended pressure in their 10-metre zone.

The ball rolled to the left-hand corner and Foggin-Johnston seemed to come from nowhere to catch up with the ball in the goal-line area.

He had it down and celebrations almost erupted, but the referee chalked it off for knocking-on in the act of scoring.

From there, Leigh scored three tries in just over 10 minutes to well and truly put the nail in the coffin.

Bulls showed some semblance of dignity when Minchella and Storton combined well late on to take it to 46-20 with the Lilley extras added.

But, to rub salt into the wounds, Leigh replied with another try of their own that ended the game as Ridyard converted to make it 52-20.

This time, Lancashire held firm in a battle of the roses, but the Bulls will look at themselves as the architects of their own downfall.

There were simply too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities and in the end, too many false dawns.

This Bulls performance was one filled with plenty of promise, but little potency and finish.

The implications are clear – Kear’s men are dangerously close to being cut adrift from the play-off chase, if they can’t wrong their rights soon, ahead of a tough tie against Halifax this weekend.