As a fan of both rugby league and union it never ceases to disappoint that it’s a rare thing to find a lover of both codes. My fellow union fans tell me that rugby league’s boring yet most have never been to a live game. The final game of the Broncos season was a nothing to play for affair against Bradford Bulls. One of the original 22 teams involved in the 1895 split from the RFU, they too are destined for the Championship having had a turbulent year that included a 6 point deduction. Their 5 wins wouldn’t have stopped them dropping, Broncos 1 win made their fate inevitable. So, you would imagine we would be in for a subdued affair, with many players moving on for the 2015 season. The Bulls fans who had travelled in numbers had other plans as did the 34 men taking to the pitch.
The Bulls kicked off to a great noise from both sets of fans and the game started at 100mph. As has so often been the case for the Broncos this season an early penalty was awarded against them. And so a familiar run of play started; Manase Manuokafoa ran with the ball, he was tackled but able to get his arm free to pass to none other than former Bronco Luke Gale; Try no 1 which was duly converted by Jamie Foster. Adam Henry became provider to Luke Gale for a quick Bulls try, he ran down the line unbothered by Broncos; Try no 2 for Bulls and Gale, conversion no 2 for Foster. The visitors next try came from a passage of play that may have included some dubious officiating; Bulls were awarded the put in at a scrum; they scored straight from that scrum through Joe Arundel. At this point it felt that we were going to be in for a one sided affair and that the jubilation of the Bradford die hards would grow as the afternoon progressed. However one thing this Broncos team have never done this season is wave the white flag and give up, that nil was not to be!
Captain Matt Cook who has put his body and soul on the line for his team this year he scored a great try storming up the field to the delight of the home fans; Josh Drinkwater added the extras. An interception by Ben Farrar stayed tight in his hands after Luke Gale had gone for a big pass across the pitch. Farrar passed to Joe Keyes who scored the 4 then added the 2. Bulls went for a short kick off at the restart but Atelea Vea rose salmon like to pluck the ball out of the air; Broncos progressed when they were awarded a penalty for interference at the tackle. Joe Keyes kicked to touch and Matt Cook showed his ball handling skills as he flicked the ball out of the back of his hands to Josh Drinkwater who ran in to score his second try; his conversion put Broncos into the lead for the 1st time in the game. Both teams were determined to play to the best of their abilities and the intensity of the game meant it was inevitable that there would be errors. There were a number of high tackles and dropped balls but goodness some exciting play! One of those high shots was on Kieran Dixon who heads to the wilds of Hull KR next season, play continued however and Erjon Dollapi looking akin to a union forward scored a strong try; we had ‘happy horse’ time as Drinkwater took the score to Broncos 24 Bulls 16. The teams went in on with Broncos showing that 8 point lead, they had won a half of rugby! Both sets of fans had been treated to a fine display of rugby league.
The officiating ‘difficulties’ continued as a high shot by Broncos then a forward pass wasn’t seen. The Broncos started the half on the back foot as they went into missed tackles mode; however the Bulls seemed to be in error land and weren’t able to capitalise. Nick Slyney was the next scorer, another Bronco who has given his all week after week he took a great pass by Drinkwater and ran in under the posts to give his provider an easy kick at goal; the home side moved to 30! They were playing with pride and intent. Broncos were awarded a penalty at James Donaldson’s expense; he proceeded to yell in the referee’s face; a talking to was given but no card and no extra 10 metres. Not good to see on a rugby pitch! Broncos had spent a good part of the game kicking straight to Adam Henry, who can very clearly catch the ball well! After pressurising the Bulls defence the kick went to Henry again who was taken out, giving his team the chance to gain ground. The Bulls took full advantage of their position and Jamie Foster who showed his St Helens pedigree all through the game put in a great kick into goal and Jamie Foster added to his personal tally, adding another 2 to continue his immaculate kicking performance. During this passage of play Bradford were playing the ball so quickly it was almost like watching the NRL (They do seem to pay at a quicker pace). We were being treated to a hugely exciting game!
A careless high tackle by Scott Moore caused a bit of a rumpus in the middle of the pitch; Jay Pitts took exception and flew at Moore; the incident of course was put on report; not too sure what the ramifications can be at the end of the season with players moving to pastures new. Ironically Pitts scored a great try moments later Luke Gale; whose class was clear throughout the game made the pass to put Pitts in. Jamie Foster converted the try to close the gap to 2. In a high paced half the next chance went the way of Broncos Jordan Atkins made a strong break but was held up short of the Bulls line. However Bradford were to score after a length of the field run by Tom Olbinson (I think) Luke Gale had matched him and with no tackles bothering the man with the ball he scored his hat trick try. Foster, of course converted. My notes say at this point ‘it’s been a great game, both teams deserve to win’ I for one had a sore throat and had been jumping up and down like a crazy thing. Another high shot this time by Jamie Foster on Erjon Dollapi was only punished by a talking to; but Broncos capitalised on their position and after a strong drive by Jordan Atkins the ball came to Josh Drinkwater who scored his 2nd try. The Broncos inched ahead by 2 points; could their 2nd win of the season be on the cards?
Rugby league is all about momentum and in the final minutes of the game that shifted to the Bulls. Luke Gale added yet another try to take his tally to 4 after taking a pass from Jay Pitts; Foster extended the lead to 4 as he converted the try. It would have been fair if the whistle had gone at that point, a 4 point gap would have told the story of the game. But it wasn’t time and a break by Adam O’Brien saw Manase Manuokafoa score to thrill the fans who’d made the long journey down the M1; Foster kicked successfully again and the game finished on London Broncos Bradford Bulls 46. I for one was thrilled by the game, both teams gave their all in a game that counted for nothing; credit has to go to all the players and in fact to all of the fans. Bradford Bulls have a core of loyal and loud fans. It has to be hoped that Broncos can grow their fan base to add to those who turn up week in week out no matter what. The season is over for the Broncos and Bulls; roll on next year and the Championship where both will face some great teams and the fans will get to meet new friends, I’ll look forward to meeting Bulls fans Linz and Lisa and hope the result turns around!