THE bookies rarely get it wrong and, unfortunately, they got the numbers right with the Bulls.

Their prediction of a Fev victory in the Challenge Cup first round by more than 20 points proved spot on as competitive rugby finally made its return.

John Kear’s side were seeing their first proper action for 373 days since a battling Challenge Cup exit at Wakefield last year on the weekend that sport was shut down.

Their return in the same competition produced a disappointing exit despite a spirited, if hit-and-miss effort – but at least we have real rugby to talk about once again.

Kear, a coach steeped in Challenge Cup history, may have sensed something was on when the Bulls reduced an 18-point interval deficit with two tries early in the second half.

But Fev always possessed that extra power to pull away with a big play or two – and did so once again with another 10-minute blast to match that in the latter stages of the opening period.

The afternoon had begun well for the Bulls, who were featuring five players making their official debuts.

Two of those combined to give the visitors an 11th-minute lead.

Danny Brough was at the heart of most things from the off and he sent in winger Reece Hamlett to score out wide before nonchalantly converting a tough conversion.

That silenced the knot of local fans chanting from their bedroom windows at that open end of the ground.

But having taken a while to hit their stride, Fev got going midway through the half as Aussie Connor Jones burrowed in from dummy half to level things up.

Brandon Pickersgill, partnering Brough in the halves with Jordan Lilley suspended, should have restored the Bulls’ advantage but could not ground a grubber kick from the veteran scrum half. 

It looked easier to score than miss.

And Fev went straight to the other end to take advantage of that let-off, Thomas Minns barging in off a short pass from Fa’amanu Brown.

The ring-rustiness that Kear had predicted in the early weeks of the new campaign was evident in an awful set from the Bulls as they blew another chance in the Fev half.

They soon paid for their errors with a third home try on 34 minutes. Samoan international Brown again set it up, picking out Ben Blackmore in acres of space on the left wing, Hall improving with a kick from out wide.

Kear’s side needed to get to the half without further damage but were picked open again three minutes later as Hall burst down the middle.

James Harrison finished off the full back’s hard work and the extras gave Fev a commanding 18-point advantage when the hooter sounded.

The Bulls needed an early tonic in the second half to stay in the contest – and got it in spectacular fashion.

Tempers frayed as Brough took exception to something 15 metres from the Fev line. Youngster Brad Gallagher hurled the ball at an opponent as the hosts were penalised.

A bouncing pass out wide looked to have killed the attacking momentum but Hamlett scooped it up and acrobatically stayed in play as he stretched ahead to touch down by the corner.

Brough’s conversion fell just short but a high tackle on George Flanagan showed that maybe a flicker of doubt had crept into Fev’s performance.

That increased as the Bulls struck again when Ebon Scurr went in from close range.

But thoughts of a comeback were quickly dashed as Fev restored their authority with two tries in as many minutes.

Scurr came up with an error and Harrison went crashing through at pace for his second score and then another one-time Bull, Dale Ferguson, bulldozed a hole through the tiring Bulls defence to allow Dean Parata to stroll in.

Hall maintained his perfect record with the boot, taking him well beyond 1,500 career points in the process.

And with Sam Hallas off the pitch with a broken jaw, Hall then produced a dazzling 70-metre break through increasingly weary limbs – the first missed goal of his game afterwards did not matter.

The contest was over but Gareth Gale was sin-binned for a professional foul as he prevented a quick play-the-ball.

Rhys Evans went to send in Flanagan for a consolation effort but the pass spilled at the feet of the hooker, who looked mortified at the missed opportunity.

And even down to 12 men, it was Featherstone – and man-of-the-match Hall – who had the final say as he slotted over a cheeky drop goal.

FEATHERSTONE: Hall 9; Blackmore 7, Minns 7, Hardcastle 7, Gale 7; Brown 7, Chisholm 6; Kopczak 7, Jones 7, Lockwood 7, Day 7, Halton 7, Bussey 7. Interchange: Parata 7, Harrison 8, Cooper 6, Ferguson 7.

BULLS: Brown 6; Hamlett 8, Evans 6, Oakes 6, Sanderson 6; Pickersgill 7, Brough 7; Crossley 7, Doyle 6, Fleming 7, Gallagher 6, Rooks 6, Hallas 6. Interchange: Walker 6, Scurr 7, Flanagan 6, B England 6.