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Kingstone Press Championship Round 21 – Sheffield Eagles v Bradford Bulls Preview

After Sheffield’s woeful performance against Halifax last weekend, they’ll be looking to bounce back to winning ways with, what would be, a vital victory against Bradford. The Bulls come into this Sunday’s match after a demolition job against Hunslet Hawks so confidence in attack won’t be a thing they’re lacking.

Last Time Out 

Sheffield Eagles travelled to The Shay for a match with Richard Marshall’s in-form Halifax side. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they met Halifax on a day where they would have gave any side in the competition a good run for their money. The hosts ran out 38-10 winners and deserved every single plaudit they received. However, it was Sheffield who were first on the scoresheet via Kyle Briggs but it was all downhill from that moment onwards. Tommy Saxton, Ben Heaton and Dane Manning all crossed the chalk before the half ended, giving their side a 14-6 lead in the process after one Steve Tyrer conversion from three attempts. Manning soon had his brace after the restart, it only took him one minute to register it and the Fax ball was rolling on. Mitch Stringer pegged the hosts back for a while as the prop forward barged over for a score but the day belonged to Halifax and they kept Sheffield scoreless for the remainder while notching a further three tries. Ben Kaye and a brace for Connor Robinson made sure the West Yorkshire outfit moved into fourth place in the Kingstone Press Championship after Featherstone’s loss at home to Dewsbury Rams.

Bradford visited the South Leeds Stadium to take on Hunslet Hawks. The full-time side, coached by former player James Lowes, had too much for the Hawks to handle which ultimately led to a 62 point victory. The Bulls were 32 points up at half-time after a hat-trick from Jake Mullaney as well as respective four pointers for Adam O’Brien, Matty Blythe, James Mendeika and Ryan Shaw. Hunslet’s only score of the half came from hooker Jack Lee with six minutes left of the first 40. During the second half, Danny Williams joined the hat-trick club with tries in the 53rd, 67th and 71st minute. Etu Uaisele and Dale Ferguson also got on the scoresheet in the second half on a successful afternoon for a Bradford side who made sure they didn’t slip to a second consecutive league defeat.

Key Battle 

This game will mark the return of Sheffield Eagles centre Sam Smeaton, who sat out of last weekend’s match at Halifax due to a one match ban. Smeaton has been playing inside of Rob Worrincy for the most of 2015 but the Eagles fielded a totally different pairing on Sunday as Duane Straugheir started at centre and Misi Taulapapa was moved from loose forward to the wing. Whether both Smeaton and Worrincy make a return on Sunday remains to be seen, but it will be a big boost for the South Yorkshire side if they do. Facing the potential Worrincy-Smeaton partnership could be James Mendeika and former Eagles loanee Etu Uaisele, who lined up together for Bradford’s last match against Hunslet. Mendeika joined the Bulls during mid-season from Featherstone Rovers, the same place Uaisele arrived from with a detour through Sheffield. Every Eagles fan will know the quality Uaisele has in his locker whilst Ireland, and Sheffield, coach Mark Aston will know what James Mendeika’s qualities are as the three-quarter is a current Wolfhound himself. It’s sure to be a high intensity clash all over the pitch but the wingers and centres will be wanting to see a lot of ball so they can make their mark on the match in the most effective way.

Prediction 

With Bradford wanting to keep tabs on Leigh for as long as possible before the Qualifiers kicks off, a loss to Sheffield will definitely not be in their plans. Complacency creeped into the Bulls’ game when they lost to Featherstone so James Lowes will be getting the message across that they can’t be another repeat performance of last Wednesday when they travel to the Keepmoat Stadium. For Sheffield, it’ll be pretty hard to underperform as much as they did against Halifax last Sunday. They didn’t grab a stranglehold of proceedings and never really looked like threatening the end result from half-time onwards. Against a stronger side than in round 20, can Sheffield turn the tables completely and beat Bradford? – Bradford by 10. 

I study Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland. Write about the Kingstone Press Championship for a few websites, as well as doing match reports and previews for Sheffield Eagles.

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