Bulls' early burst stuns Saints

Rugby League: Bradford Bulls 50 St Helens 22
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Bradford extracted delicious revenge for their Challenge Cup Final defeat in April with the result that could be the one that stops St Helens winning the Stones Super League title.

A blistering first 40 minutes at Odsal last night, coupled with Wigan's last gasp, one-point win over Castleford, means that Saints, leaders all season, are now only second favourites to finish as champions.

The omens were against them from the start, with Bobbie Goulding and Chris Joynt absent injured and their former player, Paul Loughlin, winning an appeal against a suspension to run riot against the club that discarded him.

Bradford - and Loughlin in particular - looked dangerous every time they touched the ball and the Bulls romped to a 20 point lead in less than even time, with Graeme Bradley, Loughlin, another ex-Saint, Sonny Nickle and Joe Tamani all scoring tries.

Loughlin then sent one up for Jeremy Donougher and Saints made things even harder for themselves by having Scott Gibbs sent off for leading with his elbow.

With Stuart Spruce also going over before half-time, Bradford were in an impregnable position, but Saints at least managed to register their presence during a scrappy second half that saw Bradford lose Karl Fairbank to a sending off and Bradley to the sin-bin.

"The damage was done when we were blown away in the first half," Saints coach, Shaun McRae, admitted. "You have to give credit to Bradford. Some of the things they did were highly effective and I just hope they can do the same against Wigan next Friday."

McRae's hand-on-heart prediction, however, is that Wigan will win with something to spare. If they do do that it is hard to see the title going anywhere else and Saints will be left to rue their bad night at Odsal at the end of the season.

The Bulls' Brian Smith said that he had "almost expected" his side's magnificent start. "It takes something pretty special to live with what we can generate here," he said. "And Saints aren't that special defensively."

That could be the epitaph for the championship hopes that have burnt so brightly throughout this campaign.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Tamani, Calland, Loughlin, Scales; Bradley, Paul; McDermott, Lowes, Fairbank, Donougher, Nickle, McNamara. Substitutes used: Tomlinson, Medley, Knox.

St Helens: Prescott; Hunte, Gibbs, Newlove, Arnold; Hammond, McAtee; Fogerty, Cunningham, Leathem, McVey, Pickavance, Northey. Substitutes used: Morley, Perelini, Hayes.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).