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EXTENDED PREVIEW – Bradford Bulls v Sheffield Eagles

Sheffield travel to Bradford for a top-of-the-table clash this Sunday, with the visitors starting the day in 3rd and the hosts in 2nd. Both teams won their respective round 10 fixtures, and there were a lot of points scored by the Bulls and Eagles in those matches too. Will we see a points-fest this weekend?

Last Time Out

How to describe the Doncaster-Bradford match? Non-existent defences, entertaining tries every other minute, and one hell of an advert for Kingstone Press Championship rugby. That about sums it up I think! Bradford came out on top 56-38, after being 34-16 up at half-time. Etu Uaisele and Peter Fox swapped tries in the opening stages of the match before Bradford took proceedings by the scruff of the neck as Lee Gaskell crossed the whitewash twice for a brace. The two tries from the mesmeric Gaskell had given the Bulls a comfy lead but Mitch Clark got the hosts back to within a converted try on the 22nd minute, the former Penrith Panthers junior barged over the line after receiving a flat pass from Kyle Kesik. Dale Ferguson, similarly to Gaskell, touched down twice in the first half before Adam Henry also crossed with a couple of minutes to spare. Steve Snitch burst the Bradford banks as half-time loomed, he went around Ryan Shaw with minimal fuss. A penalty goal from Shaw on the hooter made sure that three converted tries was the difference between the two sides at the break. Pasqualle Dunn and Matt Groat both forced their way over the try line to start the second half, Dave Scott only converted one try but the Dons were only 34-26 down after 46 minutes. Uaisele, Gaskell and Paul Clough all added four pointers for the visitors before Paul Cooke’s side could even reply. Mike Kelly and Fox were the next to get on the scoresheet, it was the latter’s second try of the day but it was too little, too late for Donny to mark a comeback. Shaw rounded off a decent points-scoring day with a converted try with a minute to go.

In the second game of the regular Keepmoat double-header Halifax were the visitors, a team looking to cut the gap between themselves and Sheffield by half. They started the day in 4th place, four points behind the Eagles, so a win would have gave them a good chance to keep near to the Sheffield club on the ladder. And with Bradford on the horizon for the Eagles, a win was vital to their chances of consolidating third spot for two weeks at least. Sheffield beat Halifax convincingly, a 36-10 triumph certainly consolidated their third spot and has now given them a chance to play Bradford without the doubt of potentially being overtaken by the chasing pack. Halifax were 22-0 down before they posted a try, the Eagles tries were scored by Quentin Laulu-Togagae and Rob Worrincy, the winger went over the whitewash three times against his former employers. Richard Moore replied with a score in the corner after good offloading work by Dane Manning. Danny Craven didn’t convert for Fax and 22-4 was the score at half-time. Mitch Cahalane scored the first try of the second half, it came in the 65th minute and the West Yorkshire side were in with a fighting chance during the final quarter of play. But a penalty from Dominic Brambani put his side three scores ahead. That lead was extended with a second try for Laulu-Togagae as well as a last minute four pointer for scrum-half Brambani.

Key Battle

There’s always a lot that is said about Bradford’s threat to other sides and how much it depends on the form of Lee Gaskell. Gaskell’s just one piece of the potential promotion jigsaw for the Bulls.  Hooker Adam O’Brien has also caught the eye during the first ten rounds of Bradford’s season. A player with pace, and the guile to spot a gap from dummy-half, O’Brien is rated highly by everyone at Bradford and so he should be. The interchange hooker for Bradford against Doncaster was Vila Halafihi, a former Penrith Panther, who made the switch to West Yorkshire in the off-season just gone. The 20 year-old hooker, who was born in Hull but signed for the Leeds academy in 2013, is the son of former Sheffield forward Nick Halafihi. For Sheffield, they’ve had a change in the hooking department in the last month or so but the transition has been seamless. Blake South, the club’s off-season signing from North Sydney Bears, returned to Australia for personal reasons. He left without playing a game for the Eagles. Coach Mark Aston moved fast and brought in Hull KR hooker Keal Carlile on an 18 month contract. Carlile is a ‘bread and butter’ style hooker, gets on with the job in hand and does it effectively. Every team needs two good hookers, and the usual interchange hooker for Sheffield is James Davey. A very fast player when he takes off out of dummy half, Bradford will have to be wary of his presence when he comes onto the field. With both teams having strong options in the hooking position, it’s sure to be an interesting battle and one where a lot of vital go-forward will be created.

Prediction

Both teams have had similar starts to the Championship season, and it’s the first match between the two sides this season. Sheffield will be gunning for the victory, mainly because they’d be level on points with Bradford should they gain the spoils. Bradford will be wanting to put more than a two point gap between themselves and the Eagles. The Bulls are unbeaten at the Provident Stadium this season, and they’ll be favourites to carry that record forward – Bradford by 10

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