THE Bulls had tried to keep Willie Tonga’s first appearance under wraps until the last possible minute.

Having finally cleared up all the red tape last Saturday night, it was only an hour before kick-off that the news was made public.

If it was a cunning plan aimed at fooling Swinton, it registered the same success rate as those usually conjured up by Baldrick.

Not that the hugely-experienced Kangaroo centre was to blame for an afternoon that hit a new low in a season full of them. He couldn’t do much wrong when he saw so little of the ball.

But it just summed up the general direction that everything in Odsal has been heading – however hard they try.

As Geoff Toovey regularly puts it, every step forward with the Bulls seems to be accompanied by another three back.

How the coach would kill for some kind of continuity in team selection.

When Tonga ran out at Odsal on Sunday, he became the 39th different player to wears the Bulls shirt in the Championship this season. That’s the equivalent of fielding three teams!

Toovey has experienced similar issues in his decorated career Down Under but never to that degree.

“I have used the example in the past with some studies back home in the NRL,” he said.

“Generally if you use more than 23 players a year, you struggle to be successful.

“That just goes to show you need to form those combinations and partnerships as well as the team spirit and harmony.

“If you can’t have a regular team for long periods of time, it makes it very difficult.”

Necessity has forced the Bulls into nine different half-back duos – a pivotal area of the team effectively swapped around every couple of weeks.

Toovery said: “It’s the way it is. In saying that, it’s been a very difficult season in regards to key positions.

“If we didn’t have the loan players, that wouldn’t happen as much. Of course we’ve appreciated them, because we needed them. But when they disappear, it’s very hard to fill that void.

“Then we did sign some players and they’ve all been out injured long term. It hasn’t been very lucky for us.”

That is an understatement in a season that has lurched from one problem to another.

Still you question the RFL’s logic behind keeping the Bulls in the Championship and then hammering them with such a prohibitive 12-point penalty.

Of course it made total sense financially for the rest of the division. Why would they want to throw away the chance to bank a guaranteed £20,000 from hosting a travelling support which is still the envy of many in Super League?

But on the playing side, the Bulls have been effectively running with one leg – always chasing the distant pack while not knowing half the time who would be available the following week.

They head into the Championship Shield, ironically as holders, knowing that just one loss can spell relegation.

The rumour mill continues to suggest that a restructure of the divisions is still on the cards and will offer the Bulls an escape route.

Given past history, you wouldn’t put it past the powers-that-be to wait until next pre-season before announcing that bombshell.

But as it is now, there is no RFL safety net in place to catch the inevitable fall.

A call to the league this week confirmed that they still stand by chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer’s recent comments that there will be no special treatment for any club.

It’s just another worrying unknown in a year that has been full of them since the Bulls slipped into their third administration.

Morale remains high around the training ground – but then you wonder how many of that squad will still be around if next season means a mystery tour of League One.

The Bottom Eights, meanwhile, is hardly a fresh startm given that Toovey’s men automatically kick off 11 points in arrears.

“It would if you were in the other part of the league,” said the coach.

“But we keep our points, so it’s not really a new competition for us. We’re still in the same position we were before. It’s a funny one but we’ll set our sights high.”