THE GULF in class between Super League and the Championship was brutally exposed as Wakefield Trinity Wildcats thrashed Bradford Bulls in the First Utility Qualifiers.
Wildcats, who finished 11 points adrift at the bottom of Super League, outclassed the Kingstone Press Championship’s second-best team with a performance which will send them into Saturday’s vital game at lower division champions Leigh Centurions in buoyant mood.
Though Bradford had a good spell either side of the break, Wildcats were sharper and faster in everything they did.
Wakefield’s defence was beaten close to the line on three occasions and they wasted several good chances, but the final scoreline was a fair reflection of their superiority.
Wildcats haven’t had many good days this year and this one was marred by an horrific injury to winger Richard Owen in the second half.
The reaction of players close to Owen when he was hurt suggested it was a bad one and he was given oxygen on the pitch and treated by medical staff from both clubs before being stretchered off.
The damage was later revealed to be a double fracture of a leg, a huge blow for a player whose Castleford Tigers career was badly hampered by a serious break of his other leg, also suffered playing against Bradford, five years ago.
Wakefield’s fifth win of the year kept alive their hopes of beating the drop, though – unless they can pull off a surprise or two – they will probably go into the million pound match, a one-off shoot-out between the sides fourth and fifth on the Qualifiers table. But Bradford have a mountain to climb.
Huge wins over part-time teams like Doncaster and Hunslet Hawks are no preparation for facing Super League sides.
Despite all their 17 players having top-flight experience, they had no real answers to what Wakefield threw at them and were never in the contest.
Bulls conceded 50 points when they lost to Hull KR in the Challenge Cup earlier this year and once again their defence was torn apart by better-quality opposition.
Wildcats pulverised Bulls in the opening half an hour lead, racing into a 30-0 lead.
With Michael Sio pulling the strings at hooker and the pack dominating, allowing Jacob Miller and Tim Smith to shine at half-back, it was a rout.
Nick Scruton, captaining Wildcats against his previous club, had already been held up over the line by the time the hosts got off the mark, on six minutes.
Tim Smith was too good for Bulls’ defence and his pass sent Jon Molloy through a big gap. Moments later Sio began and ended a move also involving Tim Smith and Miller.
He was tackled into a post by Lee Gaskell and referee Ben Thaler initially signalled no try, but that was overturned by the video duo of Phil Bentham and George Stokes.
To make things worse for Bulls, Gaskell – their attacking pivot – was hurt trying to keep Sio out and had to go off, later needing hospital treatment.
On 12 minutes Tim Smith’s kick and chase trapped James Clare in goal and from the drop out Mickael Simon powered over off another pass by the No 7.
Sio put Nick Scruton over on 18 and Bulls crumbled again on 25, after two more drop outs.
Increasingly confident, Wildcats tapped a penalty in front of the posts and Lee Smith crossed from good work by namesake Tim.
Lee Smith converted all five tries and the game was over as a contest before Adrian Purtell pulled a try back for Bulls five minutes out from half-time, Danny Addy adding the extras.
Dale Ferguson, a former Wakefield player, provided the final pass and then went over himself at the start of the second half, from Clare’s pass.
Another Bulls try might have had Wakefield wobbling, but Smith added a penalty soon after Owen’s injury and then Leeds-bound forward Anthony Mullally, who made an impact after coming off the bench, combined with Miller to send Reece Lyne speeding over.
The conversion made it 38-12 with a quarter of the game left and Smith missed with the boot for the only time soon afterwards, after Tim Smith had created a touchdown for Matty Ashurst.
Miller scored a deserved try, Joe Arundel booting the extras, before Clare went on for a consolation touchdown with three seconds left, Addy landing his third goal.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: L Smith, Owen, Tupou, Arundel, Lyne, Miller, T Smith, Scruton, Sio, Anderson, Ashurst, Molloy, Simon. Subs (all used) Washbrook, Godinet, Walker, Mullally.
Bradford Bulls: Clare, Williams, Purtell, Blythe, Caro, Gaskell, Addy, Clough, O’Brien. Sidlow, Olbison, Ferguson, Pitts. Subs (all used) Ryan, Lauaki, Crossley, Siejka.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).