Wakefield Trinity 17 Bradford Bulls 14 - Chris Chester says "best team lost" as Bulls charge Wakefield
RELIEVED Wakefield Trinity were thankful to England centre Reece Lyne as they escaped suffering a Challenge Cup shock at the hands of a spirited Bradford Bulls.
They had trailed 14-7 at one point and continued to struggle against John Kear’s well-marshalled Championship side until Lyne came up to finish a rare dynamic move for his side in the 69th minute.
With David Fifita and Danny Brough both making successful returns from injury, Wakefield - who lost here to Hull FC in Golden Point last week - are safely into Monday’s last 16 draw in New York.
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But defeat was hard on Bradford who had more than held their own for much of the contest and, with the likes of full-back Brandon Pickersgill, young half-back Rowan Milnes and explosive forward Levy Nzoungou, boasted many of the best players on pitch.
Few would have guessed they were the part-time outfit and it seemed like they could repeat last year’s Cup heroics when they defeated Leeds Rhinos.
Lacklustre Wakefield were relieved by the end and for more reason than one.
With the prospect of games being postponed or played behind closed doors once coronavirus does hit rugby league, extra finances generated by a decent Cup run could be more valuable than ever and not just for second-tier clubs.
A disappointed Trinity coach Chris Chester admitted: “It’s a huge relief (to win); I thought the best team lost tonight.
“They created far more opportunities than us certainly in that first 10 or 15 minutes; they could have been two or three scores up.
“We’re in the draw for the next round and that’s probably the one and only positive to come out of tonight’s performance.
“But I don't want to take any credit away from Bradford. I thought they were absolutely superb.
“We spoke all week about complacency and attitude and not being out-enthused but I thought we got out-enthused tonight.
“That’s the effect John (Kear) has on a team.
“It was a very, very ugly win for us.”
The 20-year-old Bradford half-back Milnes played his part in that win over Leeds and he hurt Wakefield, too.
He was one of five Bulls players sold to Hull KR to ease financial issues last year but was loaned back for the 2020 season and has continued his promising partnership with Jordan Lilley.
He put his side 8-7 ahead with a 44th minute penalty and quickly extended that advantage after ending a fine set with a grubber that saw Danny Brough caught behind his own posts to concede a drop goal.
From there, Bradford’s hopes seemed of another try seemed to be ended when Lyne got a flailing hand to deny one wide pass.
Milnes picked up the pieces and - unaware the tackle count had been restarted - grubbered through again towards the posts.
It looked well covered and a wasted shot but suddenly he scrapped his way through a sea of defenders to touch the ball down first.
Milnes converted for a 14-7 lead and his side grew in confidence.
Indeed, sluggish Wakefield showed little sign of emerging from their malaise until they came to life with an ad hoc play on the last tackle just before the hour mark.
Bill Tupou found space on the left edge near halfway and found a lovely flick pass to give Tom Johnstone a smidgen of room.
The England winger was quickly closed down so angled a kick infield where Alex Walker motored up to finish off his first try for the club since joining from London Broncos.
Brough converted but, still, Bradford unruffled his side again as David Foggin-Johnston burst clear down the left from deep inside his own half.
It needed some impressive pace from Lyne to eventually claw the winger in - Johsntone covering for good measure - but Tupou had to time his challenge to perfection to deny Dawson-Jones as Bulls quickly shifted it to the other flank.
At that point, Walker was also down in backfield receiving treatment so Wakefield had been light; he headed down the tunnel soon after for a HIA.
Earlier, the hosts had grown so frustrated by Bradford’s well-organised defence that Jacob Miller felt the need to resort to claiming a drop-goal with the final play of the first period.
That gave his side the slenderest of advantages but the Bulls had proved good value.
They rarely saw their defensive line broken, in part to some stuttering Wakefield handling slowing their shifts but also largely down to the visitors’ enthusiasm and steeliness.
Bradford took the lead through Jordan Lilley’s 21st minute try.
The former Leeds Rhinos scrum-half having already once been dragged down just short after lacking a yard of pace when looking to round off a classy attack down the Bulls’ right edge.
But after Ryan Atkins’ fumble at the play-the-ball, there was no denying Lilley second time around.
He threw a dummy in the shadow of the posts and left Joe Westerman floored as he sliced over from 10m for Milnes to convert.
The arrival of Fifita brought instant rewards.
The site of the big prop entering the field in the 27th minute not only brought an instant cheer from the crowd but also a penalty from Bradford who immediately conceded a high tackle.
Fifita had not played for seven months but quickly came up with some telling plays, Dawson-Jones being ticked off for becoming the second opponent trying to halt his huge frame with a wild high tackle.
From there, Brough’s clever delayed pass sent Joe Westerman hurtling through, juggling the ball and just holding on to score from 20m out for Brough to level but it was only much later that his side could finally breathe easy.
Wakefield Trinity: Walker; Tupou, Lyne, Atkins, Johnstone; Miller, Brough; Arona, K Wood, Tanginoa, Pitts, Ashurst, Westerman. Substitutes: Fifita, Green, King, J Wood.
Bradford Bulls: Pickersgill; Foggin-Johnston, Dawson-Jones, Oakes, Brown; Milnes, Lilley; England, Flanagan, Crossley, Rooks, Gallagher, Hallas. Substitutes; Doyle, Scurr, Hodgson, Nzoungou.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Widnes)