Bradford Bulls 124 v West Wales Raiders 0
This match, or shall we call it what it really was, an exhibition, took place a week after York City Knights had rewritten the record books by inflicting a 144-0 defeat on West Wales Raiders. The only matter of interest for anyone who attended was whether Bradford Bulls would set their stall out and aim to beat that record themselves.
There were incentives for Bradford in doing so, beyond records, with York being League 1 promotion rivals and having boosted their points difference to a position that prevented the Bulls, winners of last week’s ‘top of the table’ clash against Doncaster from actually going top of the table.
With the sun making a rare Odsal appearance and the temperature pushing into the mid-twenties Celsius, the heat might have been the only major obstacle in their way, though they kept the scoreboard ticking along in the first half, matching York’s record-setting pace by half-time with the scoreline at 60-0.
Any doubts that the players didn’t have the record in their minds could be set aside by the numerous glances they kept taking at the scoreboard themselves after each try-scoring foray over the West Wales line.
What can a coach possibly say to their players halfway through a match with a scoreline looking like that?
Aside from brief moments of West Wales possession, and even a couple of occasions when they troubled the Bulls in defence near their own line, this was purely one way traffic.
Kick-off. Try. Conversion. Restart. Repeat for 80 minutes.
The only time boos rang out from the home crowd they were in jest as Dane Chisholm missed a solitary conversion in an otherwise faultless display of goal kicking, including several landed from the sidelines.
In the end, some time-consuming fumbling at the start of each half cost the Bulls their chance of eclipsing York’s record, but they did become the first Bradford side to notch up a triple figure score at Odsal, which caused the children hauling the numbers up and down off the hooks on the manual scoreboard some consternation. They solved the puzzle of how to cope without a third hook by hoisting the number ‘1’ aloft themselves and holding it there for the duration.
Ten out of ten for problem-solving skills, but how this fits in with child labour laws I guess we’ll never know.
The West Wales Raiders players deserve some credit. It’s not their fault they are out of their depth. They were brave enough to pull on a shirt and go out on the field, knowing in advance there would be little reward for their efforts other than being on the receiving end of yet another drubbing. That takes courage. And they stuck to their task regardless, even managing to force a goal line drop out from the Bulls with just two minutes remaining in the game and the scoreboard already well into triple figures against them.
That they allowed themselves to be caught out by a short kick from under the posts by Bradford, who regathered the ball and went the length of the field to score another try just summed up the gulf between the two sides. For West Wales, it was always going to be that sort of afternoon, and there was some acknowledgement of that from the Bulls fans who gave each and every one of the Raiders players a rousing ovation as they trudged off the field at the final whistle.
The Bulls rewrote their own record books today – (if we set aside any argument that this club is the same one that set the old records, given the number of times it has been out of business and reformed over the years) – and if there is any consolation whatsoever to be taken from this latest shellacking for West Wales, it is that Bradford’s previous record score was set ten years previous against Toulouse, who are now sitting pretty near the top of a division above the Bulls and with realistic ambitions of achieving promotion to Super League.
As someone who has always believed that Rugby League should expand its boundaries, I hope West Wales Raiders will still be around in ten years time, and that somehow, they will have moved forward from the travails of their debut season of 2018.
However, I would also hope that in that time, those charged with the responsibility of running the sport in this country will have learned that days like this don’t benefit Rugby League and that if you want to encourage people to play and watch it in new areas, you cannot just give a club a place in the league and then leave it to sink or swim on its own.
We’re seeing in Bradford, a big city with a long and proud Rugby League history, that rebuilding a club from the bottom up takes time, effort and money and there is no guarantee of success at the end.
Expecting a new club in South Wales to be competitive from day one with no outside help is just wishful thinking. If defeats like this become the norm (unlike the aforementioned Toulouse for which theirs was an exception) how long before everyone keeping the club alive just decide it isn’t worth it and walk away?