THE Bulls can beam back at the man in the mirror after pride was restored with a pulsating win over Halifax.

It had been a long fortnight of soul-searching after the 50-12 thrashing by Sheffield – their heaviest opening-day loss since 1995.

Coming on the back of conceding 41 points to Featherstone in the Challenge Cup, big questions were inevitably being asked about heart and desire.

John Kear wanted to see an answer – and how he got one as the Bulls had to do it the hard way to claim their first Championship win of 2021.

A 14-point deficit inside the first 18 minutes – against a penalty count of 8-1 in favour of Halifax – piled on the pressure.

But that made the comeback all the sweeter before the returning Jordan Lilley fittingly applied the coup de grace with a late drop-goal.

It had hardly been the start Kear wanted as the Bulls coughed up penalty after penalty in the opening exchanges – barely touching the ball in the process.

Scrambling defence had bundled Nick Rawsthorne into touch but the Panthers soon took advantage of the home side’s indiscipline.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Brandon Pickersgill races down the sideline for a spectacular long-range tryBrandon Pickersgill races down the sideline for a spectacular long-range try

Connor Robinson, often a thorn in the side for the Bulls in York colours, slotted the opening penalty before Halifax added a try on seven minutes after Brandon Pickersgill spilled a towering bomb from Liam Harris.

Halifax swooped on the loose ball and set up James Saltonstall to score on the right wing with Robinson nailing the touchline conversion.

The Bulls lost Adam Rooks for 10 minutes after an off-the-ball hit on Kevin Larroyer and the 12 men wasted a chance to respond when Pickersgill’s wild throw flew over David Foggin-Johnston’s head 10 metres out.

The afternoon threatened to get even longer when they were caught wide open to allow full back Scott Grix to exploit the space. An outrageous dummy took three white shirts with him as he strolled over unopposed.

“Keep your heads” bawled Steve Crossley as the Bulls battled against another implosion.

It needed a spark from somewhere – and they got it on 25 minutes with a superbly-manufactured try.

Kear has waited patiently to get Danny Brough and Lilley on the pitch together competitively and the duo showed exactly why.

Brough arrowed a cross-field kick towards the far corner where Joe Brown timed his jump to perfection to claim and keep the ball alive, Lilley arriving at his side to smuggle it over the line.

Brough’s confident kick trimmed the deficit by another two and the resistance had begun.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Danny Brough played together with Jordan Lilley for the first time this season Danny Brough played together with Jordan Lilley for the first time this season

Halifax went down to 12 after Saltonstall’s trip on Foggin-Johnston – and the Bulls took full advantage of the extra numbers with a second score.

It was a reward for persistence as they battered away at the line, Ebon Scurr, Brough and Steve Crossley all having a go before Dan Fleming eventually powered over.

The action was hotting up and Lilley was levelled by a high shot from Gadwin Springer that saw both sides converge in an angry melee on halfway.

When the dust had settled, Springer was sent to the bin along with Fleming who had led the Bulls charge for justice.

It was 12 v 11 for a while but the numbers had levelled up as Halifax came knocking right before the break – only for Lilley to save a certain try with a huge tackle on Greg Worthington in front the line.

And the Bulls came bursting out the gates for the second half to grab the lead for the first time.

Scurr set the tone with a driving carry and Brough’s penalty from the ensuing play levelled the scores.

The Scurr again had a hand in the next scoring drive – although it was all about the quick-thinking of Lilley and pace of Pickersgill.

Lilley led the break down the right wing and fed Pickersgill just inside his own half. The full back slammed on the afterburners from that point and raced to the line for a thrilling effort.

Brough was furious with himself for scuffing the conversion but the Bulls had the bit between their teeth.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jordan Lilley's match-winning drop goal is up and on its wayJordan Lilley's match-winning drop goal is up and on its way

Brown produced a brave catch under huge pressure to defuse a strong Halifax response before the Bulls extended their advantage with a flowing cross-field move.

Lilley, once again, was orchestrating things as he fed Foggin-Johnston for the Bulls’ fourth try. Brough made no mistake this time as he clubbed the extras from out wide.

But Halifax, like the Bulls in the first half, cleared their heads from the onslaught and the topsy-turvy contest took another twist when Springer blasted his way in on Robinson’s short pass.

As the momentum shifted, Halifax struck once more when Robinson’s spinning kick caused confusion between Brown and Pickersgill and Kevin Larroyer finished the loose ball. Robinson’s touchline kick edged the Panthers back ahead.

But the Bulls dug deep and found the energy to respond. Larroyer was caught offside in front of his own posts and Brough levelled the scores.

Now it was all about who held their nerve and – with five minutes left – Lilley put his extra drop-goal practice at Saturday’s captain’s run to good effect by slotting the decisive one point.

BULLS: Pickersgill 7; Brown 7, R Evans 7, Oakes 7, Foggin-Johnston 7; Brough 7, Lilley 9; Nzoungou 7, Doyle 7, Crossley 8, Rooks 7, Murphy 7, B Evans 7. Interchange: Jowitt 6, Scurr 8, Fleming 8, England 7.

HALIFAX: Grix 7; Rawsthorne 7, Worthington 7, McComb 7, Saltonstall 8; L Harris 7, Robinson 8; E Harris 7, Moore 7, Murray 7, Garside 7, Brearley 8, Larroyer 7. Interchange: Bourouh 7, Springer 8, Calcott 7, Barber 7.