Bradford Bulls 28 Keighley Cougars 20

THE Bulls edged a feisty local derby on the eve of the league campaign by putting one over their Bradford district neighbours Keighley.

This may have been the dress rehearsal ahead of the real thing when the sides meet competitively in a month's time at Cougar Park.

Yet the main talking point of this so-called 'friendly' encounter was how it descended into a pitch battle, with four sendings off and one yellow card.

After being 'nilled' in successive matches against Dewsbury and Toronto, the Bulls will be pleased to get back among the points and return to winning ways.

But the Cougars ensured it would not be a straightforward afternoon for the League One odds-on favourites.

Samir Tahraoui received his marching orders midway through the second half. The extra man proved key for the Bulls but they ended up losing two players late on as Ethan Ryan and Elliot Minchella were given red cards following a mass brawl.

Cougars player Ryan Wright also received a red card in the melee as the match ended 11-a-side.

It was all Bulls during the opening stages but the Cougars took a surprise lead in what was pretty much their first attack after ten minutes.

Some slack defence saw former Bulls academy player Ritchie Hawkyard set up Hamish Barnes for the opening try.

But Bradford were soon level when the ball passed through several pairs of hands and Alex Brown touched down in the left-hand corner. It was his side's first score in over two games.

The heavy conditions already seemed to be taking their toll in what was a typical winter rugby arm wrestle in the mud.

The Bulls had the penalty count very much in their favour and they took advantage on 25 minutes when they gained the lead after good work in front of the sticks saw Brandon Pickersgill scurry his way over under the sticks. Joe Keyes made the simple conversion to put the hosts 10-4 up.

Sunshine turned to a blizzard as Odsal lived up to its reputation of having its own bizarre – and bone-chillingly cold – micro-climate.

The Cougars levelled the scores when poor Bulls defence allowed Hawkyard to slip Barnes in again for his second try. Credit must go to Keighley too, as they looked slick in attack down their right edge.

Benn Hardcastle took over kicking duties and levelled the scores at 10-10.

Despite the cold temperature, things heated up on the pitch when a late challenge on Beharrell sparked the first mass brawl which saw Hawkyard given a yellow card for his role in the afters.

Tempers were still frayed minutes later when another melee broke out, although Bradford referee Liam Staveley had his back to it as play continued before the hooter sounded in a fractious end to the half.

Liam Johnson got the Bulls off to the perfect start in the second half as good work from Keyes sent him over in the right corner. Keyes, who enjoyed a fine return after recovering from a knee injury, converted to put the hosts 16-10 in front.

But the scores were level yet again when Harry Aaronson took advantage of a static defence following a kick through from Hardcastle.

The game boiled over once more after 55 minutes when former Bulls prop Tahraoui received a yellow card for fighting, only for the referee to change it to red when the player went back for more.

Now a man to the good, the Bulls took control as Minchella spotted a gap in the Keighley defence and went over. Keyes converted – and did so again after laying it on a plate for Johnson's second try.

Then with three minutes left, and the game seemingly drifting to an uneventful close, the biggest fracas yet erupted as tempers flared again and Ryan, Minchella and Wright were dismissed.

There was still time for Andy Gabriel to dive over in fine style and claw back some of the deficit for the Cougars on the hooter.

But they had given up local bragging rights as the Bulls reclaimed the Joe Phillips Memorial Trophy.

Now both clubs face an anxious wait to find out from the disciplinary panel what their double dismissals will cost them.