With the London Broncos thrashing the Shefield Eagles by 42-0 earlier in the day to make progress in the playoffs, all eyes turned to Odsal Stadium for the third against sixth encounter between the Bradford Bulls and York RLFC Knights as both sides looked to ensure their progress.
A win for Bradford would set up a trip to Toulouse next weekend while should York emerge as victors then they would have the daunting task of a visit to Featherstone while London Broncos would make the trip to France.
York had won both previous encounters in 2023, the latest just three weeks ago, but the bookies made the home side the favourites for the win and handicapped them by six points on the coupon for what could potentially be a classic play off eliminator.
Bradford started the game the brighter of the two sides but as the minutes passed York began to settle.
The Bulls had a try ruled out on seven minutes for a forward pass, when they had a two man overlap. On their first real attack of the game York were awarded a penalty for an offside ten from their opponents’ line and under the shadow of the sticks. Liam Harris kicked the two points for a lead for the visitors.
York did well to stop a couple of Bradford attacks but on twenty they found themselves inside the Bulls twenty with Jesse Dee crashing over the line and despite the video referee having no angles to see what happened over the line the on-field official gave the try. Harris added the extras for an 8-0 lead, it was not going to plan for the Bulls.
The Bulls got a penalty for a ball steal on thirty-one minutes just twenty from the Knights line. Keven Appo went close on the third tackle but was held up bit on the next play that Fenton Rogers took the pass five from the line and barged over to score. Jordan Lilley added the conversion, and the deficit was back to two points.
Within two minutes a barnstorming run from Appo saw him bust the line, run over the top of the defence, and dive over by the posts. Lilley was on target for the second time and the Bulls now had a 12-8 lead, the bench players inspiring the fightback.
A brilliant Bulls try, over sixty metres through three pairs of hands, saw great breaks from Doro, Lilley and then finally Tom Holmes who took an early dive to slide over by the left upright. Lilley added the conversion, the Bulls were edging closer to a trip to Toulouse next week.
Jason Bass knocked on a Pauli Pauli pass on fifty-two when he had space to go over in the right corner, the Knights were struggling to get a foothold back in the game.
Another Bradford penalty from Lilley, this one after the Knights pushed a man over without the ball, pushed the lead out to two converted tries.
Lilley attempted a drop goal on sixty-five but a Knights player got his hand on it to prevent the score although the way that the Bulls were playing it seemed only a matter of time before they would extend their lead. A high tackle from Danny Kirmond on Elliot Wallis gave Lilley another two points for 22-8 with fourteen minutes of the game remaining.
The sides neutralised one another in the closing quarter of an hour, York unable to make any headway against a stalwart Bulls defence. The Bulls running out as 22-8 winners.
It was a good start from York who showed promise early in the game, but the Bulls were able to dig deep and grind out the win to progress for at least another week in the competition. It had been a good end to the season from York after they looked out of the running for the playoffs a few weeks ago, but this was a game too far as they came up against a determined Bulls side who made the most of the conditions and put in a fantastic defensive effort to build the platform for the win. Next up for the Bulls, Toulouse Olympique next weekend.
Bradford Bulls: Holmes (T), Blackmore, Arundel, Gill, Taufua, Gaskell, Lilley (5G), Lawrence, Flanagan Snr, Matongo, Butler, Wallace, Baitieri. Subs: Wynne, Doro, Appo (T), Rogers (T). 18th Man: Barraclough.
York RLFC Knights: Brown, Towse, Clarkson, Bass, Dee (T), Harris (2G), Santi, Jubb, Ta’ai, Field, Fitzsimmons, Thompson. Subs: Michael, Pauli, Price, Pemberton. 18th Man: N/A.
Score Progression: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 4-8, 6-8, 10-8, 12-8 : HT: 16-8, 18-8, 20-8, 22-8 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: York - Bradford.
Referee: Tom Grant.