Pre-season friendly: Bradford Salem 7 Bradford & Bingley 31

FOR Dean McNicholl it must have felt like the wedding day that you never want to end.

After featuring in the last 11 minutes of their final pre-season friendly before he returns to Australia this month, the popular Kiwi, who combined the derby against Bradford & Bingley with his 54th birthday and another first-team appearance with his son Rhys, said: “It could not have gone any better so far.”

McNicholl senior, ending his second spell at the club, added: “The people have been amazing, the support has just been incredible and it almost makes me wish that I was staying.

“It is a special club and the reception I have got has been second to none.”

As for his cameo appearance, McNicholl, who later received in the clubhouse an official certificate of his honorary life membership, a club plaque and a club shirt, said: “It was great to get on for those 11 minutes.

“It was a tough match played in great spirits between two worthy opponents and it definitely had that derby feel.

“The crowd really got behind myself and the team, which was so encouraging, and to walk away is going to be a really difficult thing to do.

“It is a special club and maybe I could do with coming back before 2024 (Salem’s centenary year). I will just have to win the Lottery.”

Emotions apart, this at times feisty derby – three players were sin-binned in five minutes at the start of the second half by referee Mike Hurdley - between two understrength teams was the last outing before the league campaign starts next Saturday and, although ambition outstripped execution for both teams in the first half, it was a game that both coaches felt benefitted them.

Salem’s coach Neil Spence said: “What a massive day for Dean – what a top man - and for the club to be playing against Bradford & Bingley, with Dean having a foot in both camps due to him coaching down there and his lads playing juniors down there.

“He will be sadly missed but I am sure that he won’t be a stranger to the club and it was great that he played those last few minutes with the lads that he had played with previously at Salem.”

Spence added: “We got a lot of positives out of the game.

"We were very understrength in terms of player availability and injuries but the way that we performed was really, really good.

“There was not as lot in it in the first half but I was conscious that we had a squad of 20-25 players and I wanted to get them all on.

“If we had kept the same side for 80 minutes the score might have been a little bit closer but what really pleased me was the way that we defended and were excited about defending, and maybe in the past that hasn’t happened.

“Everybody dug, played together and stuck together. No-one was expecting us to win the game but everyone did us proud.”

Spence added: “A pre-season derby was something that the players asked for when we did a review of last season and there is nothing better than playing against Bradford & Bingley.”

Bees coach Hugh Gumbs said of the match: “I have mixed emotions.

"We had a lot of players available so continuity was really hard to keep all the way through but it is a good place to be from 12 months ago when we were struggling to get sides out.

“Now we are a lot stronger and it was great to see so many of our younger players but our core group haven’t actually played together. The problem is getting them to train together and play a match together.

“We are very dangerous in that we can attack from anywhere as can be seen by our first try by scoring from our own line, pushing a few players off and then beating them on the outside with pace, with our scrum half Harry Collis, who has played the majority of the time in our second team, scoring.

“We missed a lot of chances in the first 15 or 20 minutes, which frustrated us a bit.”

Both sides made too many errors in that opening phase of what was an intense contest, and Bees flanker Heimuli Li Taufa was held up over the line in the 20th minute before the visitors were penalised twice in a matter of seconds – once for an initial offence and once for backchat.

Referee Hurdley even had to call both skippers over to try and calm things down before Collis struck in style in the 28th minute from the first decent bit of continuity in the match, with the Bees stripping the ball in the tackle before lock Joe Daley, Li Taufa, winger Aaran Magee, Li Taufa and flanker Semesi Katilimona combined fluidly to put the scrum half over in the left-hand corner.

Eight minutes later, Bees prop Cory Spencer broke the line to put Li Taufa over, with fly half Lance Taylor adding the conversion.

Salem’s No 8 Rhys Green and flanker James Callandar, plus the visitors’ Taylor, were then shown yellow between the 47th and 51st minutes before Li Taufa grabbed his second try in the 57th minute.

That was converted and No 8 Tom Cummins added another in the 65th minute, with Taylor’s kick making it 26-0.

Rhys Green – man of the match in many people’s eyes – deservedly crossed for the hosts in the 67th minute, with Jake Green converting, but Bradford & Bingley had the last word via replacement Connor Capper two minutes later after some sloppy Salem defence in their right-hand corner.

The final 11 minutes were a celebration of Salem’s old guard, with McNicholl being joined by fellow over-50 Mark Viner, while the home side also had six players over 40 on the pitch at the same time – Simon Markey, Richard Langhorn, Scarbrough, John Bradbury, Jamie Symons and former Bradford Bulls ace Glenn Morrison, who showed some touches of class on his debut.