York City Knights 18 Bradford Bulls 36 

BRADFORD Bulls, with Danny Brough back in tow pulling the strings, confirmed their place in the Betfred Championship play-offs with an impressive display at the LNER Community Stadium yesterday. 

Tries came from centre Rhys Evans (3), scrum half Jordan Lilley, prop Ben Evans and winger David Foggin-Johnston, with Brough adding five goals and Lilley one. 

The victory ended York’s slim play-off hopes but left the Bulls chasing a potential third place and an ‘easier’ tie in the play-offs. 

The first half was in many ways a showcase of Brough’s talent, with the 38-year-old stand-off sending spiralling bombs into the air that forced knock-ons and hitting a pin-point cross-kick that led to one of Rhys Evans’ three tries. 

The mercurial half-back, sidelined since early June with a bicep injury, eventually tired but gave a reminder of what the Bulls have been missing and, as head coach John Kear said, they are always more threatening when they have two pivots rather than one.  

The Bulls also welcomed back prop Steve Crossley, while new loan signing Masimbaashe Matongo started on the bench.  

York had three former Bradford players in their line-up - Ryan Atkins (who recently made his 400th career appearance), James Green and Jordan Baldwinson. 

Winger Kieran Dixon dealt well with Brough’s first high kick but spilled his second near his own 10-metre line to give the Bulls an excellent attacking opportunity but it came to nothing as Dixon intercepted Pickersgill’s pass and might have run 70 metres for a try had he not slipped soon after setting off. 

More worrying for the Bulls was the suspected broken thumb suffered by winger Matty Dawson-Jones, who can’t seem to buy a sustained run in the team. 

Hooker Will Jubb and second row Danny Kirmond ran strongly to take York to halfway but the Bulls responded well via Pickersgill, and another Brough kick proved too difficult to handle inside York’s 20 as it wavered and spun, and the visitors cashed in with Brough putting Lilley over for a try in the 12th minute. 

Six minutes later it was 12-0 as the visitors won a penalty for a high tackle, and Ben Evans went over between the sticks, leaving Brough with another easy goal. 

Bulls head coach John Kear will have been disappointed at how York were let back into the match, however, as a needless pass out of the back door by Ben Evans was understandably fumbled low down by Lilley, Atkins then scoring a try and Dixon adding the goal. 

With the Knights fans willing their team on, Bradford needed a release, and Brough gave them it with a superb crossfield kick that found Rhys Evans on the right and he showed and went, crossing the line to give Brough the chance to make it 18-6, which he took.  

Interchange George Flanagan, who has scored four tries in the last two matches, then dropped the ball beyond the York line as he tried to twist his way over. 

Fellow replacement Anthony Walker made a strong start to the second half with an offload and a charge, and it paved the way for a second Rhys Evans try, this time in the right-hand corner. 

But York responded well with a second try, with scrum half Corey Johnson’s superb pass opening up the Bulls defence for Green to charge through, with Dixon adding the goal. 

The hosts were building up a head of steam, and both Green and Jacob Gannon were held up over the Bulls line before York second-row Danny Kirmond burst through in style for the best individual try of the day, Dixon casually chipping the goal kick over the bar to make it 24-18. 

Brough then showed his experience, landing a penalty after a high tackle by Kirmond on Brough to take the visitors beyond a one-score lead. 

With Flanagan, Brough, Crossley, Aaron Murphy and the Evans brothers on the pitch, the Bulls had experience in spades inside the final 20 minutes as they defended their lead. 

Bulls hooker Tom Doyle was then held up over the line doing his George Flanagan impression, and then play was halted after a stomach knock to Pickersgill. 

The sun then broke out for the first time in the afternoon, and the Bulls scored in the left-hand corner after York fans were baying for a forward pass by Brough that was finished off Foggin-Johnston. 

Another try soon followed for the visitors on the right by Rhys Evans to complete his hat-trick as the clock neared the 75-minute mark, with Lilley adding a superb goal, inches from the touchline. 

Bulls interchange Dan Fleming was then sin-binned for a high tackle with four minutes left but it mattered little as second-row Brad England showed good scrambling defence to stop Dixon breaking away. 

The visitors forced their first goal-line drop-out in the final minute as they kept York at arm’s length in what had been an excellent all-round Bulls display. 

Knights: McGowan; Jones-Bishop, Dow-Nikau, Atkins, Dixon; Marsh, Johnson; Baldwinson, Jubb, Teanby, McDonnell, Kirmond, Clarkson. Interchange: Bass, Gannon, Stock, Green. 

Bulls: Pickersgill; Dawson-Jones, R Evans, Oakes, Foggin-Johnston; Brough, Lilley; B Evans, Doyle, Crossley, England, Murphy, Hallas. Interchange: Flanagan, Fleming, Walker, Matongo. 

Referee: Jack Smith.