Toulouse Olympique 24

Bradford Bulls 26

BRADFORD Bulls channelled their inner Admiral Nelson to run to an astounding victory in the back garden of their French foes Toulouse Olympique.

Kear’s men are hitting form at precisely the right time in the promotion chase and showed the rest of the Betfred Championship they mean business with this hard-fought, but deserved, 26-25 win.

Just four points separated the two sides beforehand, so implications of the result were huge.

The Bradford side crossed the Channel in strong spirits after keeping just their second clean sheet of the season when thumping Widnes Vikings 62-0 at Odsal in comfier climes last time out.

In the Stade Ernest Argelès, the Bulls had to deal with the bizarre circumstances that came about from the decision to split the game into four quarters due to the sweltering conditions.

This afforded the opportunity to regroup and recompose at several intervals, but the visitors would have certainly wished they could have kept their momentum going at the close of the first quarter.

Toulouse were the ones to first exert pressure, forcing a goal-line drop-out for the away side in the early moments.

What can only be described as a hospital pass from the Bulls, gave Brenden Santi the impression he could catch the loose ball for a try, but Brandon Pickersgill got there first.

The Bulls quickly came into the came after that though, gaining good ground and field position following a flurry of penalties in their favour.

Toulouse didn’t help themselves with a number of errors within the first five minutes, but the pivotal mistake came just moments later.

In the eighth minute, the hosts had a penalty after Tony Maurel was deemed to have been taken out in mid-air when collecting a kick.

But a crunching Jon Magrin tackle led to the ball coming back into the hands of the Bulls and, with the last tackle looming, Joe Keyes took it upon himself for the game’s first try.

Just 10-metres out, Keyes dinked a kick towards the try-line and it seemed an easy one to collect, but a fumble allowed the half-back to gather his own ball and plant it over the line.

Keyes hasn’t looked back since returning from injury, starting his third game in a row.

He has forged a formidable partnership with fellow full-back Jordan Lilley and it was the latter who controlled the match from the centre and proved integral for Jake Webster’s try just before the end of the first quarter to make it 8-0.

Toulouse are experiencing somewhat of a slump, having lost two of their last three, which has seen them drop to third in the table.

There may have been concerns after the dominance of their guests in the first part of the game, but Toulouse came out firing in the second 20 minutes.

After a couple of early scares for the hosts, with the Bulls forcing an early goal-line drop-out and Keyes seemingly having scored a try on 26 minutes only for it to be chalked off for a knock-on, Toulouse came good after a 29th-minute penalty.

Bulls were the architects of their own downfall here, being punished for a high challenge on Anthony Marion after the visitors had kicked out a goal-line drop-out.

Toulouse decided to push for a try, rather than kick for an easy two points, and it paid dividends with Bretherton going over the line after collecting an offload from a teammate who was being taken down.

Mark Kheirallah succeeded where Keyes had failed with his previous kicks, to take the hosts within two of the Bulls.

Then, two quick-fire tries from Toulouse – with extras added on one of them – diminished the first half efforts of the Bulls to take the hosts into a 16-8 lead.

This despite the efforts of Ethan Ryan for the first, who looked to have made a try-saving tackle only for Toulouse to restart quickly and get the points as the Bulls struggled to regroup in the chaos.

Toulouse’s incessant pressure continued and a penalty kick, just before the break, extended their lead further.

Bulls needed to shape up and their moment came on the 45th minute mark when a Ross Peltier train-hit forced another Toulouse error deep in their half, and Ross Oakes bagged a try in the aftermath.

Keyes got his first conversion of the day to make it 18-14 and the visitors didn’t look back from there.

Pickersgill had Lilley to thank for his try, which took Bulls into the lead again after it was converted, with his pinpoint kick reaching the hands of the full-back.

Bulls were on top, and any rare forays forward for Toulouse halted immediately by sharp, hard tackling.

But, on 61 minutes, the hosts turned defence into attack to regain the lead.

Keyes' cross-field kick was knocked back by Ryan, but there was nobody at home and Gavin Maguerite took advantage.

He grabbed the loose ball and leapt like a gazelle across the whole length of the pitch to score the try under the posts, despite the valiant efforts of Elliot Minchella.

With the Bulls level of control in the third quarter mirroring that of the first, the visitors may have been worried the fourth would parallel the second where Toulouse took command, following that early setback.

But the tie was to be settled just moments later.

Despite several Toulouse chances, Bulls went up the other end and, after Magrin was held up on the line, the ball made its way to Matty Wildie who bagged what was to be the game-winning try.

Keyes did the business with the kick to get Bulls two points to the good, much to the jubilation of a travelling army of around 600 Bulls fans in the crowd.

It was all hands-on deck for the visitors from there-on-in and hearts would have been in mouths when one of the final passages of play nearly resulted in a Toulouse try.

The hosts managed to break free, but the pass was deemed to have been played forward, much to the relief of the Bulls who kicked to touch and battled hard as the horn of victory approached.

A moment of panic ensued when Sam Hallas made a mistake, but Toulouse were called for offside and another kick to touch meant the points belonged to Kear and his men.

This was a valiant, heroic performance in the backyard of one of the Championship’s top sides.

It’s now three wins a row for the Bulls and the question will be posed: can this momentum be sustained for another eight games?

Attendance: 3,741

Referee: Cameron Worsley

Toulouse Olympique: Kheirallah, Marguerite, Jussaume, Bell, Maurel, Robin, Ford, Santi, Mika, Bretherton, Puech, Marion, Vaivai. Interchanges: Parata, Hepi, Boyer, Sangare.

Bulls: Pickersgill, Hitchcox, Ryan, Webster, Oakes, Lilley, Keyes, Minchella, Farrell, Garside, Kirk, Hallas, Magrin. Interchanges: Peltier, Wood, Bustin, Wildie.