Bradford Bulls 12 Toronto Wolfpack 48

JUST as it did a year ago, the Transatlantic Challenge took hosts Bradford Bulls into choppy waters.

And while Toronto Wolfpack won 34-0 on a chilly Friday night at Odsal in 2018, they triumphed by 36 points at the same venue in what was the last pre-season friendly this time around.

However, although the margin was greater at the second time of asking, there seemed more reason for optimism in 2019 than a year ago.

The Canadian-based Championship favourites, 17 of whose 18 have featured either in Super League or the NRL (Blake Wallace is the exception, having only played second-tier rugby Down Under), were given a stiffer test this time by John Kear’s side, who had pockets of pressure, particularly late in the first half.

Although Kear will have been disappointed at the ease with which Wallace scored his first try in the 26th minute and how Toronto’s man of the match Andrew Ackers created one try and scored another in the second half, it must be remembered that the Bulls were often fielding a vastly inexperienced side by comparison.

The visitors were ahead as early as the third minute from their first serious attack.

Loose forward Bodene Thompson made the break and centre Ricky Leutele was on his shoulder to put his winger Gary Wheeler over in the left corner.

However, the Bulls then won successive penalties to put themselves on the front foot, and Dane Chisholm’s kick to the left corner was won by winger Ethan Ryan but, instead of catching the ball, he could only palm it onto his knee and the ball bobbled dead.

Having survived that scare in the eighth minute, Toronto cashed in after forcing their first goal-line drop-out two minutes later, with hooker Ackers going over from close range after throwing a dummy.

Full back Gareth O’Brien landed the goal from in front of the posts, and it was beginning to look like a long afternoon for the Bulls when they conceded a third try in the 16th minute.

It again followed a Bulls goal-line drop-out, which this time was followed by a penalty, and the Wolfpack moved the ball right for winger Adam Higson to cross in the corner.

The Bulls, who included ten players among their 24 who had faced Batley Bulldogs in the Yorkshire Cup final the previous weekend, needed something to happen.

There were ironic cheers when referee Jack Smith gave them a penalty after 20 minutes as the Bulls fans thought that he had given their side little up to that juncture, and they took advantage of a defensive slip by second-row forward Andrew Dixon to get on the scoreboard in the 23rd minute, with centre Jake Webster following up his kick ahead on the last tackle to cash in.

Chisholm added the goal but Wallace then cut through at pace to score three minutes later, with O’Brien’s goal extending the lead to 20-6.

However, the Bulls ended the half well, forcing their only goal-line drop-out and then scoring via a familiar ploy.

Chisholm kicked to the left corner and Ryan leapt well to pat the ball back for Webster to score his second try in the 33rd minute.

Chisholm then landed the goal from the left touchline, and the home side must have felt generally happy with life to be only eight points behind at 20-12 going into the second half.

Kear’s side were playing into the breeze this time and were the first to show when Rowan Milnes intercepted down the right-hand side but realised that he didn’t have the legs to run over half the length of the field.

Interchange Tom Doyle was then held up over the Wolfpack line as the Bulls continued their form from the end of the first half.

But Toronto, glad of the challenge that they were being given but determined not to finish second best, took the game away from the Championship newcomers with two tries in four minutes.

Ackers dummied and broke down the middle to put Joe Mellor over in the 49th minute, and Brian McDermott’s side then profited from a suspicious offside when Wallace’s kick ahead immediately landed in centre Chase Stanley’s midriff for him to put O’Brien over.

The full back added both goals to help make it 32-12 as Kear, with next weekend’s match against Featherstone Rovers in mind, replaced some of his more experienced players with youngsters.

Wallace bagged his second try in the 68th minute and Ackers scooted over five minutes later, having been held up over the line a minute previously.

Wallace landed one of the goals, and Ackers intelligently switched play to the right to put Dixon over in the 76th minute.

Replacement Wallace again landed the goal, but the Bulls, who saw little of the ball late on, avoided the dreaded half-century by some gutsy defending.

Bulls: Stephenson; Foggin-Johnston, Webster, Oakes, Ryan; Milnes, Chisholm; Kirk, Hallas, Magrin, Garside, Hodgson, Wood. Interchanges: Rickett, Culling, C Green, J Green, Crossley, Doyle, Storton, Foster, O’Sullivan, Lightowler, Scurr.

Wolfpack: O’Brien; Higson, Stanley, Leutele, Wheeler; Mellor, McCrone; Sims, Ackers, Olbison, Dixon, Thompson, Wilkin. Interchanges: Lussick, Sidlow, Emmitt, Springer, Walace.

Referee: Jack Smith.

Penalties: Bulls 6, Wolfpack 6.

Goal-line drop-outs: Bulls 4, Wolfpack 1.

Attendance: 1650.