Rugby League: Bulls on a charge as Paul looks on

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The Independent Online
Bradford 36 Warrington 8

BRADFORD TOOK the bold step of dropping their undoubted star, Robbie Paul, and then took a big stride towards the Super League play- offs.

Paul, to be joined at Odsal by brother Henry from Wigan next season, was left out of the starting line-up for the first time this season, apart from when he was on international duty with New Zealand.

"He would admit himself that he hasn't been playing on top form," Bradford's assistant coach, Brian Noble, said.

"But he showed when he came on that he had plenty of enthusiasm and that is going to be our long term project."

By the time Paul came on for the last half hour, the Bulls already had this game won. The result, plus the improvement to their points difference, means that they will only need to win one of their remaining two matches to qualify for the top five, even if they still have a long way to go to reach the level of form that they would like.

Little more than midway through the first half, Warrington trailed 18- 0 yet such was the peculiar nature of this match that they could equally well have been ahead. They had no trouble finding gaps in Bradford's defence, but could not turn those breaks into points. Mike Eagar was so spoilt for choice with men in support that he passed to none of them, then both he and Mike Pechey knocked on with the line looming invitingly. Worst of all, Mark Forster tried to pick up the ball after he had won the race to Lee Briers' kick and, inevitably, fumbled it.

Bradford, on the other hand, gave a clinical demonstration of how to take chances. Graeme Bradley, moved to Paul's usual position of stand- off, got them moving with a perfect pass out of the tackle to send Stuart Spruce away.

James Lowes, another hero of last season, who has been struggling to reach his best form this time, then took a vital hand in proceedings. He figured twice in the inter- passing that produced a try for Abi Ekoku and then he latched on to a penetrative break and one handed pass from Harvey Howard for his own first.

Five minutes before half time, Lowes spotted a gap from acting half and darted over. With two conversions and a penalty from Steve McNamara what could have been an uncomfortable half ended with Bradford well in control.

Ironically, a side that had squandered so many openings during that half made a try out of nothing in the first two minutes of the second, Jason Roache taking Brendon Tuuta's long pass and beating Spruce to the corner.

After McNamara's penalty for the Bulls, Roache struck again 12 minutes from time for another long range try. If all his team-mates had shown the same opportunism, it could have been a very different story. But Bradford had enough of a cushion to be fairly relaxed and, five minutes from the end, Howard and Lowes laid on a "welcome back" try for Paul.

In the final seconds Paul, showing more of a spring in his stride than in recent weeks, provided Bradley with a deserved try and the play-offs looked that bit closer.

Bradford: Spruce, Scales, Ekoku, McAvoy, Graham, Bradley, Deacon, Harmon, Lowes, Howard, Forshaw, Dwyer, McNamara. Substitutes used: Fielden, Reihana, Paul, Medley.

Warrington: Penny, Forster, Peachey, Eagar, Roach, Briers, Farrar, Chambers, Highton, Nutley, McCurrie, Tuuta, Wainwright. Substitutes used: Knott, Stevens, Causey, Cowell.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).