It’s a measure of the distances you have to cover as a Rugby League fan in Betfred League 1 that a two-hour drive down the M1 almost feels like a short hop. I was only in Coventry the weekend before for the Rufus Wainwright gig at the Cathedral, so I thought I knew what to expect from this particular journey. But that was without reckoning for an accident on the motorway chucking a sizeable spanner in the works.
So, just about the time I was expecting to arrive at the Butts Park Arena, I was driving round Uttoxeter of all places following an ever more random set of redirections from my satnav which was desperately trying to get me to the ground on time.
Thankfully, I made it with about 15 minutes to spare and was able to pay my admission money, buy a match programme and park up inside the ground without even leaving my car. Impressive service!
Once inside, there was a lot of activity around the place. It was clear the hosts had made a lot of effort in advance of this game to promote the visit of the Bulls, the pre-match promotion dubbing it the Battle of the Beasts, and to make sure everyone who turned up would have a memorable visit.
I tip my hat to them and their passion for the game which burns as brightly as anywhere else in the Rugby League community.
The Bears are celebrating their 20th year of existence and although the club is not having the easiest time on the field in League 1, they live within their means which seems to be more than some of their arguably more illustrious rivals can boast.
Indeed, it’s an ongoing concern of mine that, for all the fun of watching a winning Bradford team currently topping the competition, the Bulls themselves are not over extending themselves financially (again) in an attempt to get promoted at the first attempt. Fingers crossed on that one.
It was another swelteringly hot day, so I was relieved to see the main stand was providing some decent shelter from the sun’s rays, meaning I didn’t have to lather up with sun cream before venturing out to watch the match. For a ginger like me, this is no small concern, let me tell you. I’d be interested to know what sunblock fellow ginger James Laithwaite uses when he has to get out on the pitch in these conditions without burning to a crisp. Must be good stuff.
Once the game got underway, there was some degree of frustration amongst the sizeable travelling army of Bulls fans that the points avalanche they seemed to be expecting was not materialising. In fact, Coventry opened the scoring themselves, and were putting in plenty of decent moves with the ball in hand, as well as taking advantage of the extra possession the Bulls kept gifting them with a series of handling errors.
I guess the ball must have been pretty hot, but the Bulls did look generally off the boil in the first half, which nevertheless ended 16-6 to the visitors.
It was a different story in the second half, with Bradford piling on a further 16 points in a red hot 8 minute burst straight after the kick off in which the Bears barely touched the ball at all.
If there’s anyone out there who doubts the level of entertainment you get at this level of Rugby League, have a look at the third try of the second half, eventually scored by Elliott Minchella but only after the ball had travelled from one end of the pitch to the other in one set, and passed through at least seven pairs of hands before a kick through on the final tackle. Sure, you can argue all day that against stronger opposition such a move would never happen, but sometimes, you should just allow yourself to sit back and enjoy what you’re watching. Just imagine that – going to a Rugby League match to enjoy yourself instead of finding fault in every aspect of it. Who knows, it may catch on one day!
By this stage, the game had been put out of reach, but Coventry weren’t throwing the towel in either in front of a fully deserved record crowd for the Bears at Butts Park. They got on the scoresheet again, but the Bulls intermittently kept showing their abilities and posting a steady series of points at the other end before the banks really burst in the final five minutes when they finished the half as they had started it with a dazzling quickfire consecutive three try burst.
I almost managed to catch one of them on camera, but Sam Hallas was too quick for me in the end…
The final scoreline of 62-12 to Bradford hardly does justice to the effort the Bears put into this game, and fittingly both sides were treated to a rousing reception in front of the main stand as they left the field.
Bradford will have to play better than this if they are going to fulfil their ultimate ambition of achieving promotion as League 1 Champions this season – stronger sides will be quicker to punish the kind of errors they served up aplenty particularly in the first half and also won’t run out of steam to allow amends to be made towards the end either.
But that’s for another day.
For now, thanks to Coventry Bears for putting on a great event and congratulations on achieving a new record attendance. As a firm supporter of Rugby League expansion, I’d love to see the Bears continue to develop and grow over the next 20 years and hope that whatever structure emerges from the current spat between Super League and the rest of the sport, there will always be a meaningful place in it for enthusiastic, hard-working pioneer clubs like this.
Watch full match coverage via Proper Sports