Sunday, 14 April 2013

Countdown To The Battle With The Cattle Continues

It's sometimes difficult to find news about teams in KPC1 for our previews, but with Bradford Bulls we had the opposite problem. As you can probably imagine given the 12 months that the Bulls have had, there's been so much written about them it was hard to know what to leave out!

Whilst Hornets and the Bulls have both successfully staved off the spectre of extinction in recent years, it's fair to say that the clubs have taken very different routes to survival. But the last  year reads like an object lesson in the realities of running a Rugby League club.

After a farcical slide into chaos - played out in the full glare of the media like a slow-motion car-crash - the club's previous incarnation was finally put out of its misery on 26 June 2012, with debts of over £1,500,000. 

Following a high profiile wailing and gnashing of teeth - and a bizarre interim suggestion that all of the other clubs in Super League to take a share in the Bulls - the administrator eventually accepted an offer for the club from a consortium headed by businessman Omar Khan and local MP (and former Sports Minister) Gerry Sutcliffe. The new board also features the club’s first female director,  multi-award-winning businesswoman Kate Hardcastle - a dyed in the wool Bulls fan whose key role is to develop the club’s fanbase amongst families & children and identify opportunities for women in rugby league generally. So all positive stuff.
Bradford v Wigan - Mr Whippy played a blinder.

But despite Bradford's storming start to the 2013 season, they're not out of the woods just yet.

On their resurrection, the club was only awarded a one-year probationary Super League licence. Hence the new Bulls management met with the RFL last Friday to try and secure the club’s Super League status for next season. A final decision is anticpated within a couple of weeks, with Bradford understandably keen to know their fate to the end of the current Super League licencing period in 2014.

According to the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, as a further condition of preserving their Super League status, the other 13 clubs also elected to deny the Bulls their share of the Sky contract money for the next two seasons. At £1.2m/season that's a big hole to fill (it feels a little unfair to punish a new management for the the recklessness of the previous one, but that seems standard practice) - especially as revenue appears as hard to generate at the top as it is at the bottom, with Odsal season ticket sales falling short of target figures this season.

So can we give them a game?

On the field, the Bulls had gone off like a rocket this year, but the wheels came off in spectacular fashion at Odsal on Sunday when they were brutally dicked by Wigan to leave them sixth in Super League with 6 wins from 12. 

TLRF80mins went along on our own pre-cup spying mission to try and identify those areas where the Bulls might offer a chink of opportunity. Having watched them systematically dismantled by Wigan side that barely broke into a jog, we like to think that there are plenty of opportunities to exploit the Bulls' vulnerabilities.

For the greater part of the game, Bradford were utterly wretched. As suspected last week, they look shaky out wide - particularly their right edge. Regardless of where Wigan scored their tries, the attacks that set the platform all came down the flank occupied by Kear and Purtell, aided on at least a couple of occasions by Purtell screaming out of the defensive line, leaving a gaping hole behind. Indeed, Wigan dinked a series of kicks behind the defence causing no end of chaos and doubt - not especially helped by fullback Kearney who dropped a bomb under pressure after five minutes and spent much of the next hour looking like a bloke who'd won a place on the team photo in a raffle.

Wigan persisted on picking away at Bradford's weak spot and, when the Bulls weren't scrambling to defend kicks, they were caught back-pedalling as Tomkins made the extra man on a series of probing, arcing runs. As the first half wore on, Wigan simply reverted to running straight through the middle of the field. Quick play-the-balls found the Bradford defence stretched, with O'Loughlin and Farrell slipping through soft tackles in repeated long-range forward raids. 

Bradford offered little by way of resistance. Their main strike threat comes from Jarrod Sammut the Maltese Aussie who, we're told, hasn't had a shave since before Xmas, and currently sports a beard that offers a passable impression of Jesus with a decent sidestep. Having grabbed 14 tries already this year, he's clearly their fulcrum. He pulled out his favoured cut-out pass to the left wing a couple of times - and his little 'take it right, switch it left' move, but he ploughed a bit of a lonely furrow.

Other than Sammut's occasional probing passes Bradford barely launched an attack of merit in 40 minutes. And it took primary kicker Sammut until the 36th minute to direct a kick towards a touchline (most were just booted harmlessly down centre-field). To be fair, Sammut tackles above his weight, moving out wide on the left on defence. He's got an interesting kick off technique too (yes, we got see that a lot!) - hoisting the ball high onto the defending side's 20 metre line. Interestingly, he hoofed three consecutive kick-offs out of play!

Sammut also provided Bradford's only real bright spot on 35 minutes when a 60 metre interception break came to naught as he didnt have the legs to go all the way - and his support didn't have the legs to get to him.

It was 30-nil at half time, and Wigan scored in under two minutes of the second half: Tomkins from a delicate kick through - again exploiting the fact that every time Bradford's defence had to turn it hadn't clue what was happening. At 36 nil Wigan racked the cue, played through the drills at threequarter speed and avoided any injuries. After almost an hour Bradford finally conjured up an attack, and it was that man Sammut latching on to a lofted kick (seemingly from an offside position). He converted his own try and 10,000 people spent the next 20 minutes trying to stay awake.

To be perfectly frank, Bradford were awful. Outplayed, out-enthused and simply out-organised. Wigan identified their weaknesses out wide, compelled the defence to turn at every opportunity and were tight enough on defence to nullify the Bulls' narrow attacking repertoire (Plan A: give it to Jarrod. Plan B: send in a big lad).

So, can Hornets give them a game? If we can keep the play the balls quick, move the ball wide and get the ball in behind the Bulls defence, TLCRF80mins thinks Hornets have got the personnel to make them think a bit. If they didn't like the deceptive runs of Sam Tomkins, they won't much like Wayne English's Jack-in-the-box style. The battle at half-back should be interesting too. We think that Steve Roper and Paul Crook have enough in their locker to keep their opposite numbers on their toes. Bradford played young Danny Addy at stand-off - he started of quietly and faded away, so lots of scope for the Ginger General to make him look a dick.

Certainly Hornets forwards will have their work cut-out. Bradford have a big pack that runs straight and hard. But to be honest, they don't do much else. And if you're playing Chev Walker in the second row, it's reasonable to assume that you're a bit short on firepower.

Before we went to Odsal, we were really excited about the visit of the resurrected Bulls. But, having seen them play, we want Hornets to play them tomorrow. We can't wait to see just how Hornets aquit themselves. Bradford are not invincible. There are opportunities. And we can all dream.

The battle with the cattle can't come quick enough.