Castleford Tigers 22, Bradford Bulls 14

IF THE Bulls are to return to Super League at the first attempt, Jake Mullaney's contribution from full back could prove pivotal.

Signed from Salford Red Devils to replace Brett Kearney, Mullaney was the game's outstanding player during a first half which saw Bradford establish a 14-6 advantage.

He had a hand in all three tries, scored by Jay Pitts, Ryan Shaw and Adrian Purtell, as the Bulls made a vibrant start to their opening friendly.

When Mullaney arrived for pre-season training at the start of October, the 24-year-old Australian was carrying too much timber and lacking confidence.

That was the legacy of an injury-disrupted season at Salford which saw him sidelined for long periods with a torn pectoral muscle.

"We've got some talented players and Jake is one of them," said Bulls boss Jimmy Lowes after yesterday's game.

"He came to us as a little fat kid 12 weeks ago and he's changed massively after working extremely hard.

"I think he was disillusioned (at Salford) and when you're not wanted, it can have an effect on you. He has changed massively since the first day he arrived at Bradford."

For the opening 40 minutes, the Bulls resembled a team who were beginning to reap the benefits of a gruelling pre-season.

They looked fit, well-organised and motivated, with no little attacking fluency about them either.

Lee Gaskell and new recruit Harry Siejka showed some promising signs as the new half-back partnership, while Mullaney supported the attack at every opportunity.

The Bulls let slip their interval lead as Castleford came back strongly in the second half to nil Lowes' men and emerge victorious in Andy Lynch's testimonial game.

Yet there were plenty of positives which Lowes could take from his new-look side as 11 new signings featured in front of a crowd of 3,844.

As well as Mullaney, Etu Uiasele, Jean-Philippe Baile, Siejka, Paul Clough and Lucas Walshaw all started, while Samir Tahraoui, Chris Ulugia, Shaw, Vila Halafihi and Karl Davies came off the bench.

Castleford included several new recruits in Denny Solomona, Ben Roberts, Luke Gale, Matt Cook, Scott Moore, Mike McMeeken and Steve Crossley.

Gale enjoyed himself against the club where he has spent the past three seasons and looked at home in the Tigers jersey on his first appearance for Daryl Powell's men.

In the tenth minute, Castleford winger James Clare burst through the Bulls' defence and left Adam Sidlow for dead, only for referee George Stokes to penalise the Tigers for crossing.

The Bulls advanced upfield and Mullaney's excellent dummy running across the face of the Castleford defence saw him draw several home players before finding Gaskell.

The former St Helens man showed intelligence to stab a teasing grubber kick behind the Cas defence and Pitts arrived to touch down for a try which Siejka converted.

As the midway point in the first half approached, Lowes replaced Baile and Chev Walker with Shaw and Danny Addy at centre and loose forward respectively.

Tahraoui then replaced Clough before the Bulls grabbed their second try in the 20th minute after ripping the Tigers apart.

Adam O'Brien found Siejka and he in turn supplied Mullaney inside the right channel, with the former Salford man expertly ushering Shaw over in the right corner.

It was a fine finish from Shaw but, after an outstanding 40-20 from Siejka came to nothing, the Tigers scored through Justin Carney shortly after the half-hour mark.

Purtell did well to deny Gale with some brilliant defending over the line but, from the next play, Carney burrowed over to get Castleford off the mark.

Yet the Bulls claimed a third try moments before the interval when Mullaney broke brilliantly inside the left channel and showed intelligence to find Purtell, whose strength took him over the line.

As Lowes made a raft of replacements, the Bulls struggled for rhythm and field position in the second half.

Castleford took advantage and scored three tries to win the match.

First, former Leeds centre Ashley Gibson crossed the line after a handling error from Ulugia, then hooker Scott Moore went over after rookie Bulls scrum half Adam Brook was harshly sinbinned for holding down.

Gale, one of four ex-Bradford players in the Castleford side, converted both tries to put his new team 18-14 in front before McMeeken broke clear inside the right channel for a fourth home score late on.

Castleford: Dorn, Clare, Webster, Solomona, Carney, Roberts, Gale, Lynch, Milner, Millington, Holmes, Cook, Massey.

Interchange: Moore, Wheeldon, Finn, Tansey, Channing, McMeeken, Crossley, Gibson.

Bulls: Mullaney, Uaisele, Purtell, Baile, Williams, Gaskell, Siejka, Clough, O'Brien, Sidlow, Walshaw, Pitts, Walker.

Interchange: Tahraoui, Addy, Brook, Olbison, Ulugia, Shaw, Halafihi, Davies, Mellor.