Rugby League: Halifax put Bulls to grass

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By Dave Hadfield

Halifax 25 Bradford Bulls 12

BRADFORD'S REIGN as Super League champions is hanging on a more tenuous thread than ever, following this defeat by a side that has usurped many of their virtues. Halifax hit the Bulls with an early onslaught from which they never recovered and Bradford are now only two points ahead of the pursuing London and Sheffield with some testing fixtures to come.

Even by the dizzying standards of over achievement they have set this season, Halifax were sensational in the first half hour. A combination of power and alert, imaginative support play - synonymous with Bradford not long ago - was too much for the Bulls.

Under pressure from the kick-off, they conceded the penalty from which Martin Pearson gave Halifax the lead. After only seven minutes, Des Clark barged through and served the ball up for Martin Moana to score. Pearson improved that and also the effort set up by Karl Harrison's storming run and Gavin Clinch's clever inside pass to Chris Chester.

There was even a living exhibition from the museum of forgotten techniques when Halifax produced a six-man shove to drive their scrum forward, Damien Gibson scooting away on the next tackle, before Bradford had worked out what was going on, to go 60 yards and touch down.

When Bradford eventually came back, Halifax's tackling was as decisive as their attacking play and the only time the Bulls could breach them was the result of a forward pass from Steve McNamara to Jon Scales. As if to rub it in, Clinch also added a drop goal before half-time.

Bradford lifted their game after the break, the hard working Brian McDermott taking James Lowes' pass to register a try, converted by McNamara.

Pearson kicked a long-range penalty after a scrap that saw Gary Mercer and Mike Forshaw sent to the sin-bin and Halifax had what would have been a clinching try disallowed after Chester kicked ahead.

Bradford were able to sustain their recovery, Stuart Spruce making the break after Paul Rowley had lost the ball and after long video scrutiny, Paul Deacon being awarded the try.

McNamara's conversion held out the faint hope of a salvage operation, but Halifax ended that when they moved the ball wide and Pearson sent in Fereti Tuilagi.

Halifax: Gibson; Tuilagi, Pearson, Bouveng, Bloem; Chester, Clinch; Harrison, Rowley, Marshall, Mercer, Clark, Moana. Substitutes used: Skerrett, Baldwin, Hall.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Ekoku, Bradley, Vaikona, Dale; Paul, Beacon; McDermott, Lowes, Harmon, Donougher, Forshaw, McNamara. Substitutes used: Crouthers, Graham, Fielden, Knox

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).