Cougars 6 Bulls 54

ROCKY was the major box office smash the last time Bradford were in town for league combat.

Jimmy Carter won the American election and Southampton were about to lift the FA Cup.

Forty-two years on from Northern winning 9-7 in a dour Good Friday encounter, the neighbours once again clashed on a level playing field.

The build-up to the derby had been reminiscent of the Cougarmania era of the mid-1990s – the trigger point for the ill-feeling that has festered since Keighley were denied entry to Super League.

But there was no hint of a Rocky revival yesterday. Unlike Balboa bashing the champion Apollo Creed, the Cougars barely laid a finger on the dominant Bulls.

The crowd of 2,912 may have been Keighley's biggest since over 4,000 saw the first game after the tragic death of Danny Jones in 2015. Yet it was significantly down on what the hosts had predicted.

The contest was also far removed from the ding-dong affair that they had been dreaming of after such a long wait. In boxing terms, this could have been waved off at half-time.

"Can we play you every week," taunted the travelling army as the tries racked up. On yesterday's evidence, Keighley won't be in a hurry to do this again.

Four weeks on from their fiery friendly at Odsal, which saw four players red-carded, the Bulls had been under pre-match orders to stay cool amid any provocation.

But the game was not even four minutes old when the first flashpoint appeared. Elliot Minchella was upended by Matty Beharall and the Cougars scrum half was instantly sent to the sin-bin.

Matt Garside had a score ruled out for a double movement but the Cougars responded with Adam Ryder held up a couple of metres short.

The Bulls broke the deadlock on 14 minutes through an increasingly familiar source.

Joe Keyes burst through the Keighley line 40 metres out and Elliot Minchella was on his shoulder to beat the last tackle for his seventh try in three games.

Ross Peltier's arrival after 23 minutes drew a few home boos but those fans were soon cheering the defensive efforts of Adam Ryder and Andy Gabriel to force Dalton Grant into touch as the Welsh winger was poised to plant down in the corner.

Peltier, though, had the real laugh when he scored against his old club within five minutes of coming on.

Steve Crossley did the hard work setting up the chance. Then George Milton slipped in the pass for Peltier to barrel in with two tacklers hanging off his back, earning a huge chorus from the travelling Bulls army.

The Bulls were starting to go through the gears and had a third try before the half-hour mark.

Brandon Pickersgill, starting ahead of Dane Chisholm at scrum half, raced upfield and George Flanagan crowned his debut with the score.

Ten years after being released from Odsal, Flanagan was flying into everything as he relished his opportunity.

The Bulls were quicker and sharper off the line – and there was no respite for the hosts as they threw on Chisholm six minutes before the interval.

Flanagan's speed out of the ruck caught Keighley not standing square, allowing Keyes to tack on two more points.

The early zest seemed to have been sucked out of the home side as the half-time hooter sounded. They had lost a yard of pace and shoulders were starting to droop.

Keeping the Bulls at bay in that first half had sapped energy levels.

Any glimmer of hope of gaining a foothold after the resumption was quickly dashed as the Bulls, now playing down the hill, scored again within five minutes.

Keyes fooled the Keighley defence with a dummy before scooting in under the posts. Converting his own try, Bradford were 24-0 up and disappearing into the distance.

The Cougars then proceeded to cut their own throats deep in Bulls territory.

A loose pass from Ritchie Hawkyard was picked off by Dalton Grant, who raced 80 metres upfield for his first try in a Bulls shirt despite the frantic efforts of Gabriel to stop him grounding.

Well adrift, the Cougars' endeavours were finally rewarded in the 55th minute as second-row Brad Nicholson forced his way over from close range.

But it was a very brief respite as left wing Gabriel made a complete mess of Keyes' angled kick in front of his own line.

Under no pressure whatsoever, he spilled the high ball which bounced nicely for a grateful Minchella to gobble up.

Chisholm thought he had scored but was pegged back for a forward pass from one-time Cougars youngster Ethan Ryan.

But as the Bulls continued to fill their boots, Flanagan went in from dummy half for his second try and hooker Sam Hallas quickly followed suit in similar fashion from seven metres away.

They put the seal on it in the final seconds when Ryan hauled in a wild pass from Benn Hardcastle for the ninth try. Keyes landed his ninth kick for 22 personal points.

The away fans were in fine voice behind those posts and heralded John Kear – who had anticipated Keighley would offer a far sterner examination of his side's credentials.

The Bulls coach had seen his team taken all the way by York three weeks before and viewed that as the perfect preparation for an equally nail-biting occasion with their closest rivals.

But it never panned out like that. Bradford were stronger, quicker and completely ruthless.

There were no dramas. This was as comfortable an afternoon as the Bulls could have wished for.

"We could say that we were bad but Bradford were excellent," lamented Cougars coach Craig Lingard.

A delighted Kear said: "The lads were busting to play and I thought they applied themselves really well."