Bulls fail to live with the worst

Dave Hadfield on a terrible night for the European Super League leaders
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The Independent Online
So it's official then. Our best can't beat their worst.

Bradford Bulls, runaway leaders of European Super League, were supposed to be Britain's standard-bearers in the World Club Championship. But Saturday night at Odsal saw them beaten 20-16 for the second match in succession - this time by Auckland Warriors, who could not win a match to save their lives before embarking for England.

Auckland even played more than half of the match with 12 men, after their hooker, Syd Eru, was sent off for a high tackle. Even a man short, they looked the better organised, more accomplished rugby team.

Bradford had their excuses. They had three days less than Auckland to recover from their last game. They had players missing through injury and others playing when they should not have been. But if the game here was in the state of health we have been led to believe, our leading team should overcome those problems.

The trouble is that rugby league in Britain has conned itself into thinking it is much better than it is. It has believed its own hype and - not just in the case of Bradford - its own bullshit.

Players and clubs have fondly imagined that simply calling the game Super and switching it to summer have transformed it beyond recognition. It has certainly changed on the surface, but the underlying standard does not automatically improve.

Nor - and this is real heresy - does full-time professionalism suddenly work the miracle. It is one thing to have players on call, in theory, for 24 hours a day; quite another to use that time in the right way - and the undeniable evidence is that southern hemisphere players remain far better prepared than our own.

Too many in this country have swallowed their own publicity - but the World Club Championship has shown that promotion is one thing and performance is quite another.

"At least we're not getting thrashed," said one Bradford dad, his kids festooned with Bulls merchandise.

True - Wigan aside, Bradford have been Britain's most respectable performers over this embarrassing week and a half. But his face gave the game away. This was not what he and his family had signed up for. Reality had failed to match the myth - and that is the case far beyond the boundaries of Bradford as well.