Rugby League: No frills proves enough for Bulls

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The Independent Online
Bradford Bulls 20 Halifax Blue Sox 2

BRADFORD MADE light of the absence of the Paul brothers with a purposeful and efficient performance on a night which recalled the conditions under which winter rugby was often played at Odsal.

It was not a game for frills or flights of fancy and Bradford did the simple things far better than opponents whose confidence should have been high after beating Wigan last week.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect for the Bulls' coach, Matthew Elliott, was the response of two players he left out of his team last week, loose forward Steve McNamara and centre Nathan McAvoy.

McAvoy showed his best form since arriving as a big-money signing from Salford last year while McNamara, dropped after some sub-standard performances, came back to prove Bradford's most influential player on the night.

"It was the first time that Steve hasn't been picked since he came to the club," said Elliott. "The way he handled the disappointment was to come out and play like that tonight. I'm really proud for him."

The Bulls looked destined for an early try from the moment Graham Holroyd knocked on from the kick-off and it duly arrived after four minutes, with McNamara spreading the ball, McAvoy standing up in the tackle and Tevita Vaikona powering his way over in the corner.

Holroyd halved that lead when he landed a penalty after being obstructed by Brian McDermott, but Bradford always looked the more likely to adapt successfully to the conditions and would have had a second try through Paul Deacon if the referee had not spotted an illegal play-the-ball.

It was an occasion for good, basic rugby and Bradford had by far the bigger share of play, although a clever kick by Daryl Cardiss caused momentary alarm and Damian Gibson almost squeezed in by the corner flag.

Before half-time, however, Bradford extended their lead to something that began to reflect their dominance, Danny Peacock stealing the ball in a tackle, McDermott getting over the try line only to be held up and McNamara working the scrum base to send Michael Withers over.

Some of Bradford's composure mysteriously deserted them at the start of the second half when they briefly began to match Halifax for mistakes.

They were revived by their young prop, Stuart Fielden, who put them back on the right track by storming through the middle and sliding over the try line in Gibson's tackle.

McAvoy, showing much of the potential that seems to have been mislaid over the last couple of seasons, then took advantage of a neat pass by Deacon to crash over, while there were other touches to cheer Elliott in the contribution of the teenage back, Leon Pryce, in the latter stages of a match that was now firmly under control.

"I'm delighted and really proud of them, because it was a great team effort," said Elliott. "I hear a lot of talk about other clubs' team spirit and I probably play ours down, but there's a great atmosphere among the players at the moment.

"Our defensive effort was superb. They never looked like scoring."

For Elliott to be able to say that about a potentially tricky fixture like this shows just how solid this Bradford display was.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Vaikona, McAvoy, D Peacock, Withers; Boyle, Deacon; McDermott, Lowes, Anderson, Jowitt, Forshaw, McNamara. Substitutes used: Donougher, J Peacock, Pryce, Fielden.

Halifax Blue Sox: Cardiss; Gibson, Bouveng, Craig, Pinkney; Holroyd, Clinch; Broadbent, Rowley, Skerrett, Gillespie, Bloem, Chester. Substitutes used: Marshall, Moana, Clark, Seal.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).