Warrington 54 Bulls 6

IN ONE sense, Saturday’s trip to the Halliwell Jones Stadium to play Warrington was a reminder of better days when Bulls used to go toe to toe with a fellow Super League giant on a regular basis.

Certainly off the pitch, Bradford fans were more than a match for their home counterparts as the travelling faithful turned out in force and sang their hearts out.

But on it, this one-sided Challenge Cup clash showed just how big the gulf in class can be between the top tier and the lowest tier in the domestic game.

York may have pushed Catalan Dragons all the way yesterday but Steve McNamara's struggling French outfit are nothing on Warrington, who look genuine Super League title contenders.

They blew Bulls away with a display as hot as the temperature was on a balmy Cheshire afternoon.

They ran in ten tries and only Joe Keyes’ late reply ensured that John Kear’s side were not ‘nilled’ by the hungry Wolves.

Yet the defeat – almost matching the 52-6 score by which Bulls had beaten Coventry the week before – was certainly no disgrace to the visitors.

They gave their all but Steve Price’s side are not one of the country's form teams for no reason.

This was their seventh win on the bounce in a sequence which has left them in third place, their most eye-catching victory being at last year’s Grand Finalists Castleford over Easter.

And though some key players, including Kevin Brown and Daryl Clark, did not feature, there were plenty who did.

It was perhaps a nod to Kear’s pedigree in the competition that Price dare not take any chances against one of his teams.

After all, it was just two weeks shy of 20 years since the Bulls coach led Sheffield Eagles to the greatest cup final upset of all time when they beat Wigan at Wembley.

So Stefan Ratchford, Josh Charnley, Chris Hill, Ben Currie, Ryan Atkins and Ben Westwood – all England internationals – were included.

Charnley – back in league after a spell in rugby union with Sale – took the headlines with four tries, while Kiwi international Bryson Goodwin, who signed for Wolves after a decade playing in the NRL, helped himself to a hat-trick.

But it was former Bulls player Atkins who produced the most thrilling moments of the match with two passes out wide for two of Charnley’s tries. It was ball handling of the highest quality.

When you consider much of the Bulls squad are part-time, and they were also missing playmaker Dane Chisholm among other key players such as Gregg McNally and Sam Hallas, it was always going to be a difficult afternoon for the League One outfit.

Yet a promising opening ten minutes saw them start the better of the sides.

Birthday boy Dalton Grant won his side a fresh set of six following a chip from Keyes and pressure from Liam Kirk and Steve Crossley also forced a knock on.

But when Hill latched on to a pass from Ratchford to touch down for the opener after 11 minutes at the other end, it soon became one-way traffic.

Two minutes later, Currie was over after Grant had produced a good tackle to halt the initial burst.

Goodwin weaved his way across the line for try number three and the fourth was not long in coming when great hands from Declan Patton set up Currie for his second.

Shortly after the Wire made it five tries in the first half-hour when more good backs play saw the ball switched from left to right for Charnley to go over for his first score.

Bulls had barely blinked and it was 26-0. Undeterred, their fans at the other end of the ground continued to make themselves heard.

They were determined to enjoy themselves on an afternoon when, after all, there was little expectation of their side.

But Bulls certainly did not want it to get embarrassing on a day when Widnes thrashed Coventry 90-0.

They came close to opening their account through Ross Peltier. Twice the prop threatened the line after charging at the home defence, the second time even leading to celebrations which the referee cut short when he waved away Bulls claims of a try.

At the other end, Ratchford touched down twice but both were disallowed, once for offside and once for a double movement.

It looked as if the visitors had at least stemmed the tide but then Charnley went over after good play from Harvey Livett to make it 30-0 at the break.

Warrington were in no mood to let up when the sides came out for the second half as Atkins showed the fastest of hands to provide Charnley with two more tries in the right corner.

George Flanagan was held up in front of the sticks at the other end before Goodwin added another Wolves try and then converted, having taken over kicking duties from Ratchford in the second half.

The former South Sydney Rabbitohs star then sealed his hat-trick after running in from inside his own half after an interception by Livett.

Bulls had the last word as Keyes produced a jinking run to cross the whitewash and then converted his own try.

It was just reward for the battling Bulls who never once gave in.

And it provided some much deserved cheer for the loud and loyal Bulls fans at the terrace end, who were still chanting to the last.

Kear said: "It was packed with Bulls fans. I would hazard a guess to say there were more Bulls fans there than has been for some Super League teams who have come here.

“To give the players the reception they did is heartwarming and makes you feel inspired to continue working hard to try to grow this team again into a Super League team within a Super League club.”


WARRINGTON: Ratchford 8, Charnley 9, Goodwin 8, Atkins 8, Brown 7, Patton 7, Roberts 8, Hill 7, Smith 6, Akauola 7, Currie 7, Hughes 6, King 6. Interchange: Philbin 7, Livett 7, Westwood 8, Moran 6.

BULLS: Pickersgill 6, Grant 7, Gibson 5, Oakes 6, Ryan 6, Keyes 7, Minchella 6, Kirk 7, Halafihi 6, Crossley 6, Garside 6, Johnson 6, Milton 6. Interchange: Flanagan 7, Peltier 7, Bustin 6, Wood 6.