THE Bulls went into this clash knowing a win could send a real message to the rest of the Championship.

It may only be the start of the season, but the Bradford side put in an assured performance in testing conditions last weekend against a much-fancied Featherstone Rovers and hoped they could build on that in their first away fixture.

Swinton’s Heywood Road home is a ground that provided Bulls with a reminder of demon’s past.

They last travelled there in August 2017, when their relegation to League One had already been confirmed.

The fact only three of the team from that game remain, shows the vast evolution the Bulls have undergone over the past two years.

But Bulls were pushed hard for nearly 70 minutes by a Swinton team who are certain to pick up points against some of the other sides in the Betfred Championship.

The 31-12 scoreline in favour of the Bulls was a testament to their tenacity and stamina, but it doesn’t tell the full story of a game which truly was a tale of two halves.

Bulls boss John Kear announced an unchanged squad for this one and started with the exact same 13 who lined up against Featherstone.

Kear’s faith seemingly paid off early doors when Bulls scored a fantastically-worked try in the fifth minute after some scrappy to and fro between the two sides.

Some quick play along the Bulls line led to the ball falling to the hands of Brandon Pickersgill on the left wing, between 20 and 30 metres out from the Swinton try-line.

The Bulls man made a sharp dart inside escaping his markers before he swerved back to the left as more defenders approached.

But, Pickersgill moved the ball to an onrushing Matty Wildie, who curved his run to put the ball down under the posts.

Dane Chisholm continued his 100 per cent kicking record by following the try up with a conversion, giving the Bulls an early 6-0 lead.

Despite the lead, Bulls were quickly put under pressure by a physical Swinton Lions whose players kept attempting strong, fast individual runs to try break the Bulls’ line.

A tangible response came in the 11th minute when a grubber kick into the corner of the Bulls’ try-line gave impressive winger Mike Butt the chance to place the ball down for four points.

One of those leading the charge for Swinton was Chris Hankinson, who is dual registered with the Wigan Warriors.

The big man certainly made a difference, standing firm when the Bulls defence would try bringing him down, gaining an extra five to 10 metres every time by ensuring the tackle wasn’t completed.

His side, a team sitting at the bottom of the table following their drubbing last week, actually controlled much of the first period, following Bulls’ early start.

It was only four minutes after their first that the Lions shocked the army of travelling Bulls fans with another grubber kick leading to a try and subsequent conversion for Liam Forsyth and Hankinson respectively.

The scrappy, feisty nature of proceedings perhaps initially played into their hands, with over a dozen penalties given away by either side in just the first half.

One such decision led to the Lions taking a stronger 12-6 lead after Hankinson opted to kick the penalty.

As the half rumbled one into the final 10, things were starting to look a little worrying for a Bulls side who couldn’t break down or get to grips with a well-organised Swinton.

But, when they needed to come good, they did, and the turning point came after a huge Sam Hallas challenge which led to the Lions losing possession.

From the subsequent scrum, Bulls came out looking for an important try.

Step forward Dane Chisholm who lifted a neat kick into the path of Ethan Ryan on the left-wing, who went across the line untroubled on the 34th minute.

Just before the hooter blew, Bulls were handed yet another penalty and with only a few moments to go and the score level there was only one answer to Chisholm’s glance to the bench.

The Bulls seven kicked the penalty for two, giving the visitors a slender 14-12 lead going into the break.

Kear must have had some words to say in the dressing room at half-time, as Bulls ramped it up good and proper in the second period.

But it wasn’t plain-sailing for the visitors, with the Lions challenging them every step of the way for much of the half.

Bulls had a try after seven minutes of the half, though, but Chisholm with his first missed kick of the season meant a reachable 18-12 lead.

The try itself showed some great ball work across the wing, before a deft flick behind his back from Jy Hitchcox landed in the hands of Elliot Minchella who bagged the four points.

Much of the physicality and tension in the match was ramped up when Bulls’ George Flanagan came on towards the end of the first half and tempers flared after an incident involving the number 21 in the second.

Swinton were pushing and Butt weaved his way across the Bulls line, but Flanagan proceeded to clean the winger out with a tough, but fair tackle on the Bulls' 10-metre line.

It was his celebrations at a great bit of defensive work afterwards that caused the Lions players to take issue and a light brawl ensued, but with no punishment from the referee.

It took until the 66th minute for the Bulls to get their hands firmly on the game, when Jordan Lilley hit a drop goal from 20 metres out to make it 19-12 to the Bulls.

A frantic 14 minutes followed where the Lions eventually capitulated after a solid showing in the first half.

There were two further tries for captain Steve Crossley and Rhys Evans, with Chisholm back to his usual self when converting both kicks following each of those.

Evans’ try can from a chaotic passage of play which was orchestrated by man-of-the-match, Jy Hitchcox.

His storming run of around 30 metres, past the halfway line, put the Lions under pressure.

Hitchcox was eventually caught but the Bulls quickly worked it over to the right-hand side where Evans was waiting.

That makes it two wins out of two for the Bulls, who sit in fourth in the table.

The stage is now set for a huge tie on Friday evening, as they visit Sheffield Eagles who sit just above them in the table.