Rugby League: Sheffield overrun by the Bulls

Sheffield Eagles 2 Bradford Bulls 52
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The Independent Online
SOMETIMES, THE last thing you need is to be proved right. The Sheffield coach, John Kear, has been among the most vociferous critics of this season's extra Super League matches in midweek and the distorting effect they could have on the competition.

All clubs will suffer from this overload in their turn, but as straws go few could be shorter than Wigan on Wednesday followed by equally genuine title contenders in the well-rested Bradford Bulls yesterday.

The Rolling Stones' appearance at the Don Valley Stadium meant that the Eagles had to go on tour with this match, albeit only to the adjoining area of north Derbyshire. For those who had only seen them at their usual home, Chesterfield's tighter ground at Saltergate gave them their first close-up view of their team and they will not have much liked what they saw.

"I wouldn't use the fixtures as an excuse," Kear said. "Other teams have to do it and they don't capitulate like we did today. I'm humiliated and devastated."

The Bradford supporters who made the trip in predictable numbers would have been far more content. Their ninth game without defeat takes them to within a point of St Helens at the top of the table, they have a wealth of creative options in midfield and the progress of young players like Leon Pryce, Jamie Peacock and Stuart Fielden is nothing short of startling.

The latecomers had not taken their places on the terraces when Bradford struck for the first time after just a minute. Henry Paul, starting the game while his brother, Robbie, was on the bench, split the Eagles' defence and timed his pass to David Boyle perfectly.

Sheffield had their moments, notably a dashing attack featuring Karl Lovell and Keith Senior that ended when Jeff Hardy put through a kick that was too hard, but when it came to taking their chances Bradford were infinitely more adept.

Their second try came after only eight minutes, with the elder Paul again the instigator. Nathan McAvoy and Michael Withers also handled well at pace before Stuart Spruce claimed the first of his tries.

The Eagles got on to the board thanks to Chris Thorman's penalty. But it was a more unfortunate use of the boot by the young scrum-half from the north-east that saw the Bulls take a stranglehold. A Paul Deacon kick flicked up off Thorman's heel and landed in Spruce's arms for a gift try.

Bradford continued to apply ominous pressure and, five minutes from half- time, the promising young Peacock forced his way over for his first senior try. Spruce was denied his hat-trick immediately after half-time when he was swamped by the defence, but the ball was still moved out to the left for McAvoy to score.

The Eagles' defence looked weary and lethargic when James Lowes carved a pass through soon after. Another of Bradford's brightest prospects, Pryce, continued the rout.

The game became messy enough to slow the flow of points, but a sharp pass from Lowes released Robbie Paul for the Bulls' seventh try. Lowes who had exploited a tiring defence throughout the second half, kicked through and dived on the loose ball for another and Brian McDermott brought up the half-century from close range. All that Sheffield could possibly argue was that the system, like Chesterfield's famous spire, was askew.

Sheffield Eagles: Pearson; Lovell, Watson, Senior, Sodje; Hardy, Phorman; Molloy, Lawless, Laughton, Shaw, Turner, Anderson. Substitutes used: Greenwood, Teixido, Baldwin, Jackson.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Pryce, Naylor, McAvoy, Withers; H Paul, Deacon; McDermott, Lowes, Fieldon, Boyle, Forshaw, McNamara. Substitutes used: R Paul, Anderson, Jowitt, Peacock.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).