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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: Warrington Wolves 32 Bradford Bulls 16
WARRINGTON Wolves booked their place in the quarter final of the Challenge Cup with a 32-16 defeat of Mick Potter’s Bradford Bulls at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Wolves have not previously had the best cup record against Bulls, having won only two of their last nine meetings between the two sides in the knockout competition. But they may yet see this victory as a good omen for the rest of their cup campaign, as the only two times they have previously defeated Bradford, in 1990 and in 2010, they have gone all the way to Wembley.
There will be much to improve on before they can start thinking of a return to that famous stadium, as though they comfortably defeated the visitors in the end, they started the game in much the same manner as they have all season.
Luckily, a hat-trick for Joel Monaghan and a fifth consecutive scoring appearance for Chris Riley, along with tries for Ryan Atkins and Brett Hodgson, meant they had enough firepower to progress without fully hitting their straps in a stop-start encounter.
It was a scrappy start, with five penalties given away in the first seven minutes, but Bradford Bulls looked the most dangerous with the ball and caused their hosts the most problems early on. The visitors even had a try disallowed when the video referee chalked off Adrian Purtell’s opener following a high kick on the last, and though the bounce deceived Chris Riley, the boot of Ryan Atkins prevented the winger from grounding the ball.
Wolves dodged a bullet on that occasion, but they did not heed the warnings and minutes later Bulls did take the lead after Keith Lulia stole the ball from Ben Westwood and Mick Potter’s side romped up the field to take advantage. Once again it was Purtell who crossed on the right, this time scooping the ball off the floor before stepping inside a weak tackle and beating Gareth O’Brien to the corner. Luke Gale added the extras from the touchline.
That try seemed to spark the hosts into life, though, as after 20 minutes of failing to make the most of their possession Wolves started to test Bulls’ defence. First, Chris Riley almost benefitted from two excellent kicks from Lee Briers and Brett Hodgson, but Briers’ cross-field bomb escaped his grasp before Hodgson’s clever grubber just ran beyond the winger in Bulls’ in-goal area.
Wolves finally put themselves on the scoreboard on 23 minutes, with Joel Monaghan opening their account with a trademark diving try in the corner. Excellent interchange from Briers and Gareth O’Brien put Briers into space and his long cut-out pass found Monaghan in acres of space on the wing. Brett Hodgson missed the extras, but Wolves had dragged themselves to 4-6 after a shaky start.
It was the catalyst the hosts needed to start asserting themselves in the game, as they almost immediately hit out again when Micky Higham broke through with players in support, only to pick the wrong option and get hauled down with the line just metres away. Wolves continued to build pressure however, with only Karl Pryce’s vital intercept on his own line diffusing the pressure that Wolves had built over several minutes within the visitor’s 10-metre line.
There was a worrying few minutes shortly before half time when Brett Hodgson seemed to go down with a neck injury following a tackle from Ben Jeffries. Luckily for Wolves, their full back was ok and had his revenge on Bulls just a minute later, crossing between the posts to give Wolves the lead for the first time in the game. Hodgson scooped the ball off the floor following Briers’ deflected pass and the lethal point-scorer ghosted through some poor tackling to give himself a simple conversion.
Livewire winger Chris Riley had scored in his previous four matches, and on the stroke of half time he stretched that run to five to give his side a 16-6 lead at the break. With Bulls on a final charge, Bryn Hargreaves’ failed pass hit the floor and Riley reacted brilliantly to scoop up the ball and sprint 60-metres to cross between the posts. Hodgson added the extras and from 6-0 down, Wolves trooped in with a 10-point lead.
Bulls needed to start the second half brightly in order to keep themselves in the match, but instead it was Wolves who built on their excellent end to the first half to apply some early pressure after the restart. This pressure was turned into points brilliantly by the boot of Hodgson, who dabbed a perfectly weighted grubber kick through the Bulls defence to hand Monaghan his second try of the game.
Wolves had the wind in their sails, but Bulls looked visibly shaken by getting the second half off to such a bad start. This allowed the hosts to add another try, when Shaun Ainscough’s knock on at the play-the-ball gifted Wolves a scrum and Ryan Atkins broke through some more poor tackling to cross to the left of the posts. Hodgson added the extras and Wolves led 26-6 with 49 minutes gone.
Bradford had barely had the chance to run with the ball in the second half, but when they did they produced a try that Wolves themselves would have been proud of. Keeping the ball alive with several offloads and some excellent support play, the ball was eventually spun out to the left by Olivier Elima and Jamie Langley put Lulia over on the left.
Bulls were boosted by that try, twice being held up over the line as they attempted to claw their way back into the contest. But Wolves were also looking dangerous with the ball, with Briers denied a try by the video referee after he collected his own deflected high kick and dropped over, only for a knock on to be given in the build-up.
The match was quickly becoming a feisty encounter, with both Bulls and Wolves giving away penalties at the ruck. Unfortunately for Chris Hill, he was punished following a streak of penalties from the hosts and immediately after James Child’s warning to Briers, he conceded another and was sin-binned as a result.
Not that Wolves seemed to suffer too much from the loss of a man, as they were again denied a try following a knock on in the build up after Tyrone McCarthy had grounded Hodgson’s flicked pass in the corner. Hodgson’s kicking had not been up to his usual standards in the windy conditions, and he then missed the chance to put his side three tries ahead when missing a penalty on 70 minutes.
This led to a tense final 10 minutes when Bradford moved within 10 points after Olivier Elima collected a cross-field bomb and dropped over on the left, with Gale adding the extras to make it 26-10.
But Wolves ended the match with a flourish to book their place in the next round, with Joel Monaghan finishing off his hat-trick in the exact style in which he started it. Briers’ long pass out to the right was flicked on by Chris Bridge and Monaghan dived over in trademark fashion in the corner to score his third of the afternoon. Hodgson added the tricky touchline conversion to make the final score 32-16.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Chris Riley, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan; Lee Briers, Gareth O’Brien; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Tyrone McCarthy. Subs: Ben Harrison, Simon Grix, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper
Bulls: Karl Pryce; Adrian Purtell, Elliot Whitehead, Keith Lulia, Shaun Ainscough; Ben Jeffries, Luke Gale; Bryn Hargreaves, Matt Diskin, Craig Kopczak, Olivier Elima, John Bateman, Jamie Langley. Subs: Heath L’Estrange, Danny Addy, Manase Manuokafoa, Tom Burgess.