THIS match was always going to prove to be one of the most difficult steps on the way to the season’s end not least for the fact that the Bulls have hit a rich vein of form recently beating both the Catalans Dragons and our nearest and dearest at home, writes Graham Henthorne.
But mostly due to the make-up of the Saints side, bereft of many established older age players due to injury and international call-ups leaving a very young side to keep the good rugby going in their absence.
And also because Odsal is always a very tough place to win!
The Saints started well with a good exit set after the Bulls first clearance kick culminating in a penalty and after a knocked down pass a scrum on the Bulls 10 metre line. From which Ricky Bailey ran the angle before feeding Cameron Brown who also drew his man before giving Kevin Brown a walk in at the corner.
But the Bulls showed their capabilities and led by outstanding second row Bentley proceeded to camp on the Saints line bombing a try after knocking on in the act of touching down.
The Saints hit back with a great 30 metre break from Captain Liam Cooper taking Jordan Olmez’ short pass but poor options led to Aaron Smith being held up short.
Cooper made up for the missed opportunity with a big hit on the Bulls first drive but it took a simple knock on and petulant reaction to gain the Saints a penalty. Two tackles later and Brad Billsborough put Ben Morris through and as he was caught by the full back an offload gave Olmez the simplest of touch downs.
But from the restart a good set and kick was turned on its head as Kevin Brown allowed the Bulls left winger just enough space to go outside him and after some interpassing over 80 metres the left centre had opened the Bulls account.
Both packs were really hammering at each other but when the Bulls last tackle grubber went dead on the half hour the Saints stepped it up a gear.
A great run from the restart from Kevin Brown put the Saints on the front foot and when the ball found Regan Grace two tackles later in space down the middle the speedster casually went around the full back before outstripping the cover over 50 metres to the sticks.
But of course it wouldn’t be Saints without a bit of trauma and that was provided by Cameron Brown who inexplicably flung a blind pass out the back to a Bulls player, coupled it with a penalty and two tackles later the scrum half cancelled out Grace’s try to bring the margin back to one score at the break.
The first ten minutes of the second period saw the Bulls march down field on virtually every set putting a telling kick in and forcing the Saints to kick from deep.
Two substitutions bringing Smith and Alex Eckley back along with the switch of Cooper into the middle stiffened up the line and the Bulls found it progressively more difficult to make yards.
A piece of individual brilliance from Billsborough dummying his way through the line from 30 out gave the Saints a 12 point lead but from the kick Levy Nzoungou tried to trap the ball instead of catching it giving possession away immediately. Two tackles later and the Bulls hooker exploited Grace going to sleep in the tackle reaching out from the play the ball.
The next 20 minutes saw the Saints pack gradually wear their opposite numbers down but it took a brave piece of play on the last from Elliott Jenkins to seal the win. On the Saints’ 40 Smith inked blind feeding Jenkins who instead of kicking saw a sliver of a gap and a three on two and took advantage putting Jake Spedding away. He took it to the winger before feeding Grace who did the rest.
The last three weeks has seen three tough fixtures and three wins. Next on the horizon is Warrington but the squad should be augmented by some welcome returns from injury to provide a much needed injection of fresh legs.
Bailey, Grace and especially Kev Brown were outstanding along with the back row pairing of Captain Cooper and Ben Morris who spent as much time in the front row as did those around them.
Tries: Ross Oakes (23), Dan Sowerby (36), Lewis Ainley (56).
Goals: James Bentley (1 from 1), Dan Sowerby (1 from 2).
Tries: Kevin Brown (2), Jordan Olmez (20), Regan Grace (31 & 73), Brad Billsborough (53).
Goals: Brad Billsborough (3 from 5).
Half Time: 16-10
Full Time: 26-14
1. Luke Hooley; 2. Jay Panter, 3. Ross Oakes, 4. Matty Chrimes, 5. Josh Rickett; 6. Brandon Pickersgill, 7. Dan Sowerby; 8. Liam Kirk, 9. Lewis Ainley, 21. Brandon Wilkinson, 25. James Bentley, 12. James Pickering, 22. Ollie Bartle.
Subs: 14. Evan Hodgson, 15. Matthew Storton, 16. Tyron Travis, 17. Wilf Moxon.
1. Ricky Bailey; 2. Kevin Brown, 4. Cameron Brown, 3. Jake Spedding, 5. Regan Grace; 6. Elliott Jenkins, 7. Brad Billsborough; 8. Levy Nzoungou, 9. Aaron Smith, 16. Alex Eckley, 11. Liam Cooper (C), 12. Ben Morris, 13. Mike Weldon.
Subs: 10. Jordan Olmez, 14. Brad Pinder, 15. Callum Hazard, 20. Evan Bullen.