Round 1: Champions up and running

Defending engage Super League champions Bradford Bulls opened their 2006 account with a hard-fought 20-14 victory over Wakefield Wildcats at Belle Vue.

In a thoroughly entertaining game, Tony Smith's Wildcats had looked on course to record a memorable win but Bradford came back and a Shontayne Hape try in the 63rd minute secured victory for the visitors.

Bulls coach Brian Noble will be happy with the win but not necessarily the performance as Bradford struggled for cohesion throughout the game.

One of the biggest pluses of the day for the Bulls was the return from injury of Paul Deacon, who had a sound match and pulled the strings for the visitors.

Defences dominated the early stages of the game as both sides struggled to complete their sets of six.

The first chance fell to the visitors when Wakefield full-back Colum Halpenny failed to collect a seemingly straightforward kick five metres from his own line.

Iestyn Harris went on his own straight from the play-the-ball but Halpenny redeemed his earlier error by making a superb try-saving tackle on the Great Britain international.

The Wildcats grew in confidence, and they opened the scoring in the 23rd minute after Olivier Elima produced a phenomenal tackle on Marcus Bai, forcing the Bradford winger to knock on.

Ben Jeffries kicked through from the resulting scrum and debutant Paul White outpaced Karl Pryce to score in the corner. Jeffries converted to make it 6-0.

Two minutes later and the Wildcats were at it again. Paul Deacon ? playing his first game since suffering a horrific facial injury playing for Great Britain in the Gillette Tri-Nations Series ? hoisted an up-and-under which John Whittle collected after a fumble by Bai.

The Wakefield centre showed a remarkable turn of pace to sprint 80 metres to the line to record the Wildcats' second debutant try of the afternoon.

Just as the home side were in danger of pulling clear, Bradford responded when Stanley Gene forced his way over from close range. Deacon's conversion made it 10-6 at the break.

The second half exploded into life when David Solomona made a powerful break down the left and released Halpenny. The full-back fed Semi Tadulala and the wing outpaced the defence to score an outstanding try.

Jeffries was unable to convert and a try by Harris eight minutes later, converted by Deacon, made the score 14-12 to the Wildcats nine minutes into the second half.

The visitors drew level through a Deacon penalty after Monty Betham was penalised for holding on at the tackle.

They went in front for the first time in the match when Hape crashed over following some good work from Brad Meyers. Deacon's conversion extended the lead to six points and the Bulls held on for the win despite some late pressure from Wakefield.

Wakefield: 14 (10)
Tries: White, Whittle, Tadulala.
Goals: March.

Bradford: 20 (6)
Tries: Gene, I. Harris, Hape.
Goals: Deacon 4.

Wakefield: Halpenny, White, Demetriou, Whittle, Tadulala, Jeffries, Obst, Griffin, March, MacGillivray, Solomona, Catic, Betham.
Replacements: Henderson, Korkidas, Elima, J. Field.

Bradford: Withers, Bai, B. Harris, Hape, Pryce, I. Harris, Deacon, Fielden, Henderson, Lynch, Meyers, Johnson, Langley.
Replacements: Gene, Vagana, Cook, Ferres.

Referee: P Bentham (Warrington)

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