Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Bradford Bulls prepared for their Tetley's Rugby Super League top-of-the-table battle with Leeds on Friday with a 52-6 thumping of Huddersfield Giants at The McAlpine Stadium on Sunday evening. The Bulls were rampant as they opened up a 28-0 interval lead despite the absence of four key players and the loss of Paul Deacon with an eye injury on the half hour.
They ended up scoring nine tries, with captain Robbie Paul grabbing a hat-trick, while depleted Huddersfield's only consolation came through Julian Bailey's late try.
Bradford's first try, after just three minutes, was symptomatic of the problems Huddersfield faced throughout.
Under no pressure at all, Paul March knocked on at the play-the-ball and, after regaining possession, Bradford powered over through Tevita Vaikona, Deacon missing the relatively simple conversion.
Huddersfield's mistakes continued as Graham Holroyd, on his full Giants debut, lost the ball five yards out, and he later went off with a rib injury to compound his misery.
After that scare, Bradford never looked back, and added a second try on ten minutes when Robbie Paul was first to Deacon's kick to open up a 10-0 lead following the conversion, which Deacon this time slotted over.
Four minutes later, Vaikona's powerful run allowed the supporting Scott Naylor to cross, the goal opening up a 16-0 advantage.
The Giants enjoyed some good possession for the next ten minutes, but only denied themselves with yet more mistakes, although the introduction of Stanley Gene from the bench helped their cause.
But the fightback ended when Rob Parker sent Vaikona under the posts for his second score of the game.
Three minutes before the break, the Bulls opened up a 28-0 lead when Karl Pratt raced in from 40 yards after Paul Anderson's pass, Lee Radford assuming the kicking duties after Deacon's withdrawal due to an eye injury
Huddersfield picked up at the start of the second half but the Bulls crucially got the first score despite good pressure from the home side, with one golden chance seeing the final ball end up in Lesley Vainikolo's hands instead of Hefin O'Hare.
The Bulls made no mistake on 57 minutes when debutant Aaron Smith put his captain Paul away for a superb try, the Kiwi twice dropping his shoulder and darting across the Giants' defence before finding the gap.
Jamie Peacock then romped over from inside his own half, bursting through the line and surging away to touch down under the posts.
Youngster Stuart Reardon followed that up from the kick off, returning the ball on a mazy run before offloading superbly to Paul, who raced away for his hat-trick try.
Three more Radford goals had opened the scoreline to 46-0 and the Bulls passed the half century on 71 minutes when Lesley Vainikolo crossed in the corner after a good handling move begun by the irrepressible Vaikona.
Huddersfield's efforts were rewarded with four minutes remaining when Julian Bailey touched down, with Jamie Bloem converting.
But it was merely a consolation for the Giants, who were well beaten by a Bulls side which has now won its last 12 matches and is in good shape ahead of their Odsal showdown with the Rhinos.
"I thought we were super," said Bradford coach Brian Noble. "We looked sharp and strong and executed really well.
"I've got to give a special mention to (debutant) Aaron Smith, who didn't look out of place. He defended really well and did all we asked of him."
Giants coach Tony Smith was left in awe of the Bulls, and said: "Bradford are my favourites to take the title.
"We've played everybody except Widnes and I haven't seen anything to suggest otherwise.
"We found some vulnerability in their line, but I must say their defence was simply outstanding.
"They have not been so potent in recent weeks but they sure got it together today."
Castleford Tigers returned to the top six of Tetley's Rugby Super League with a comfortable 40-2 defeat of Widnes Vikings at The Jungle on Sunday afternoon. The Tigers had dropped to seventh place when they lost at Bradford last weekend and Wigan and Warrington both won, but a seven-try defeat of the Vikings saw them leap back above both into fifth.
It was the best display that Castleford have produced for some time as they inflicted a third successive defeat on Widnes.
Both sides began well, and it was the Vikings who opened the scoring on nine minutes when Jules O'Neill slotted over a 25 metre penalty following ball stealing.
Mitch Healey's 40-20 gave Castleford a good attacking platform, but Danny Orr's grubber was just too deep.
However, they managed to hit back on 16 minutes, when Ryan Hudson dummied his way through, stepped past Paul Atcheson and, despite stumbling, just reached the line.
Wayne Bartrim added the goal, while Damian Gibson saw a chance to extend the lead slip away when he lost the ball in the act of scoring.
Orr was pulled back for a forward pass after slick handling sent him over, but they managed to breach the Widnes defence again before the half hour when Bartrim sent young full back Tom Saxton over for his first try for the club.
Bartrim's goal opened up a 12-2 interval lead and, though a Ryan Sheridan 40-20 gave Widnes some pressure, the Tigers' defence held firm until the break.
However, Widnes' did after the restart, with a wonderful Orr inside ball sending Andy Lynch through a gap and his offload allowed Michael Eagar to put Darren Rogers in, the goal opening up a 16-point lead.
Widnes substitute Phil Cantillon was just short after Adam Hughes had taken a Sheridan bomb, and that miss came back to haunt the visitors when two quick tries helped to open up a 28-2 lead on the hour.
Firstly, Rogers collected a Sheridan kick on his own 30 metre line, rounded opposing winger Jason Demetriou and raced up the wing to touch down in the corner.
Then, on 58 minutes, another superb Orr pass allowed Lynch to romp over from 15 yards, Orr converting himself.
Bartrim returned from the bench to add a penalty, while Saxton produced a copybook tackle to take a breakaway Chris Giles into touch.
The Tigers added a sixth try when Lynch produced another great offload for Andy McNally, who recently rejoined the club from Featherstone, over.
Michael Smith lost the ball in the act of grounding what would have been their seventh try, but Jonny Hepworth - the hooker/half back who joined on loan from Leeds this week - dived in for a deserved score late on to seal the win.
Vikings coach Neil Kelly had his players locked in the changing room for some time following the final hooter, and he admitted: "We've had a full and frank conversation.
"I usually like to give responses 24 hours later in the video session but this warranted an immediate response.
"There is a lot of soul searching to be done. Far too often we conveniently allow a situation to get on top of us.
"The first 10-15 minutes were the only (time) we really competed. I'm relatively pleased with the way we started the game but the way we capitulated after that is very disappointing."
Tigers boss Graham Steadman dedicated the win to the club's supporters following their recent inconsistent form.
"What I was most pleased with was the defensive effort," he said. "In offence, what we've worked on in training came to the fore and it was very pleasing for it to come to fruition."