The last Coral Challenge Cup quarter final was probably the most anticipated of the week as Championship sides Bradford Bulls and Halifax went head to head to become the first semi-finalists from outside Super League since Hull Kingston Rovers in 2006.
There was added spice in that the two sides are currently level on league points in the Championship table, and that their stadiums are only separated by six West Yorkshire miles. The two sides have met twice in 2019 with honours shared, Halifax winning on the last meeting a fortnight ago by 21-14 at the summer bash.
The Bulls were firm home favourites with the bookies and who would bet against them after their sensational victory over the Leeds Rhinos in the last round. A place alongside Hull FC, Warrington Wolves and St Helens in the semi-finals awaited the winner.
Ed Barber was replaced by Kevin Laroyer after taking a head bang in tackle on five minutes after a tentative opening for both sides.
On seven minutes the Bulls took the lead after a fantastic David Foggin-Johnston break down the wing before making an inside pass to the supporting Rowan Milnes for the try. Elliott Minchella was unable to add the extras from the side line.
A late tackle from Adam Tangata on kicker Jordan Lilley put Halifax down to twelve men for ten minutes as the prop forward was show n the yellow card. Bradford opted to kick the penalty but Minchella was unable to convert a simple chance.
Halifax weathered the storm while a man down, keeping Bradford out but unable to get over the line themselves. It was an arm-wrestle between two evenly matched sides.
The scorer, Milnes, was stretchered off after thirty-two minutes with a nasty looking ankle injury. ‘Fax were on the attack when the injury happened but despite two sets on the Bulls line the Bradford defence held firm and defended their line.
Bradford managed to make their way out of defence and progressed to the Halifax twenty before being awarded a tackle after a high tackle. Lilley kicked the penalty goal on thirty-eight, the Bulls 6-0 ahead going into the sheds after a rough and tough first forty.
On forty-five Halifax hit the front thanks to penalty after a try. A high bomb to the corner from Scott Murrell was caught by a flying Steve Tyrer who was tackled around the head by Webster in the act of scoring. The referee sent the decision upstairs and the try was awarded along with a penalty for the foul. Tyrer kicked the extras, and then added the penalty from in front of the sticks to put his side ahead by two points.
Bradford struck back on fifty-two when a high kick was not collected by Scott Grix and Jake Webster was on hand to collect the ball and ground over the line. Lilley added the conversion for a 12-8 lead to Bradford.
On sixty-four the game was tied up again as Scott Grix supported a Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e break down the middle of the field to take the ball ten out and score under the sticks. Tyrer added the conversion for a 14-12 lead.
The lead only lasted for four minutes when the ball was dislodged in the tackle on the Halifax forty and picked up by Matty Wildie who went forty metres to slide over without a tacklers hand laid on him. Lilley was unable to add the conversion, just two points in it, with ten minutes remaining.
On seventy-three a superb James Woodburn-Hall solo try, throwing a couple of outrageous dummies, to go forty metres to score under the sticks for Halifax’s third try of the afternoon. Tyrer added the extras to put ‘Fax four clear and sew up the win for the visitors.
This was a terrific end to end cup tie with the lead changing hands several times between two evenly matched sides in poor conditions but a tremendous atmosphere. Both sides made errors, which can be excused in the cauldron of a cup quarter-final, but also showed plenty of skill and determination. It is Halifax who make it into the draw for the semi-finals and whose dream of Wembley is still alive, as for Bradford and John Kear, their cup run is over.
Bulls: Ryan, Grant, Webster (T), Oakes, Foggin-Johnston, Lilley (2G), Milnes (T), Crossley, Wildie (T), Kirk, Farrell, Minchella, Hallas. Subs: Peltier, Wood, Storton, Flanagan.
Halifax: Laulu-Togoga’e, Saltonstall, Tyrer (T, 4G), Butler, Sharp, Murrell, Grix (T), Kavanagh, Moore, Tangata (SB on 15), Cooper, Barber, Fairbank. Subs: Woodburn-Hall (T), Larroyer, Fleming, Morris.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas.