Bradford fail to turn the tide

Bradford Bulls 16 Auckland Warriors 20
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The bald facts were damning at Odsal last night as the leading side in Britain lost to the one that is not only running last in the Southern Hemisphere's version of Super League, but also played more than half the match with 12 men.

Auckland survived the sending off of their Test hooker, Syd Eru, for a high tackle near the end of the first half to hammer home a message that is already clear enough after little more than a week of the World Club Championship. Standards on the two sides of the world have diverged so far that they are no longer on the same planet.

A sign of how badly Bradford started was that they had already made two serious handling errors by the time Auckland took the lead in the fourth minute. They were under pressure from the time Mike Forshaw lost the ball in the first tackle and when Auckland took possession following Steve McNamara's knock-on, the writing was on the wall.

Steve Kearney stood up in the tackle, got his arms free and slipped the ball to Stacey Jones for the scrum-half to scamper over. Matthew Ridge added the goal and then accepted an extra two points Bradford could hardly afford to donate when McNamara was penalised first for holding on in the tackle and then for talking back.

Bradford were crippled by over-anxiety in everything they did, but they did at least get their first points on the board midway through the first half when a flare-up between Brian McDermott and Brady Malam yielded a penalty.

Bradford at last began to have a share of the attacking play, but their most promising positions were all wasted, notably when Jon Scales dropped the ball trying to squeeze over in the corner and when James Lowes spoilt a good break by passing forward to Graeme Bradley.

The major boost to their hopes came five minutes before half-time when Eru flew in very high on the young Bradford debutant on the wing, Andy Hodgson, and became the first player in the European phase of the competition to be sent off.

Two minutes into the second half, Bradley raced on to a pass from Glen Tomlinson and showed the deceptive pace that regularly embarrasses British defences to beat the covering tackles of Tea Ropati, Denis Betts and Matthew Ridge on a 50-yard dash to the try line.

McNamara levelled the score with a good kick, but was then responsible for Bradford temporarily losing their one-man advantage when he was sin- binned for deliberate offside.

As soon as the numbers were equal, Auckland completely outflanked the Bulls, Kearney getting the ball away to Ridge for the Warrior's captain to go over for a try he converted himself to restore their six-point lead.

Bradford looked likely to crack again as Auckland sensed their chance, but held out to go to the other end for a try that gave them new hope, Forshaw crashing through when Mark Horo went too high. Stand-in goal-kicker Paul Loughlin put the Bulls level once more.

Twelve minutes from time, Bradford hit the front for the first time when McNamara landed a penalty. The lead did not last long. Bradford conceded possession with another handling mix up, struggled to hold Jones on their try line and there was a huge gap on the left wing through which Gene Ngamu could send Paul Staladi.

Once more, Britain's best had lost narrowly, but that is little consolation in Bradford.

Bradford: Peacock; Calland, Loughlin, Bradley, Hodgson, Paul, Tomlinson, Reihana, Lowes, McDermott, Forshaw, Medley, McNamara. Substitutes used: Wittenberg, Graham, Knox, Anderson.

Auckland: Ridge; Hoppe, Ropati, Endacott, Staladi, Ngamu, Jones, Vagana, Eru, Malam, Tuimavave, Kearney, Betts. Substitutes used: Horo, Henare, L Swann, Noovao.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).