Bradford Bulls had the unenviable task of a trip to the south of France to take on a Toulouse Olympique XIII side who were cast iron favourites to progress to next weekend’s promotion game against the victors from tomorrow evening’s game between Featherstone Rovers and the London Broncos.
The Bulls took a hammering on their last visit to the Stade Ernest-Wallon back in June when they lost by 52-14 but won the first meeting of the season between the sides by 28-18 in February.
The bookies thought that this would be a win for the home side who finished the regular season in clear second spot, but Bradford weren’t making the nine-hundred-mile journey just to make up the numbers.
There were good early signs from Bradford who set out to take the game to Toulouse.
On six minutes Jason Baitieri was sin-binned for a high shot on Josh Ralph, and from the resulting penalty it looked like Toulouse would score the opening points, but Zac Santo dropped the ball on the line.
With twelve minutes on the clock, Toulouse ripped through the heart of the Bulls leaving Tom Holmes exposed while Santo took the pass and went in under the posts to give himself a simple conversion.
The home side’s lead was extended on twenty-one with a fluid move ending with Ralph creating the space for Maxime Stefani to push his way over to ground. Santo was unable to add the conversion attempt, Toulouse with a 10-0 lead. The Bulls needed to get over the whitewash next.
Bradford edged themselves back into the game thanks to a barnstorming run from George Taufua after he took a looping pass from Lee Gaskell to score in the corner. Jordan Lilley curled his touchline conversion between the uprights, the Olympique lead down to four points on the half hour.
Six minutes from the interval and Toulouse went in again, Santo turning on the pace to go through the line and make space for Guy Armitage to score down the left side. Robin Brochon added the conversion for 16-6.
Ben Laguerre weaved his way through the Bulls defence for their fourth try of the half to strike a hammer blow to the Bulls in the thirty-eighth minute. Santo resumed the kicking duties and made the mark for 22-6, Toulouse with one foot in the Million Pound Game.
The Bulls were given a penalty on forty for holding down by Dominic Peyroux and Lilley kicked the two points for 22-8 at the interval.
Weak defence from Fenton Rogers allowed Ralph in for the fifth Toulouse try of the evening with just four minutes of the second half on the clock. Brochon was on target with the conversion for 28-8.
Toulouse made a mess of a high kick, and the loose ball was collected Michael Lawrence who found Joe Arundel to score on forty-six. Lilley added the conversion for 28-14, the Bulls not giving up.
On sixty-three minutes Paul Marcon accelerated past Tom Holmes for the sixth Toulouse try of the evening as the Bulls defence tired. Brochon was wide with his conversion attempt, the home side with an eighteen-point lead.
The French side seemed happy that they had done enough and rather than go after more points they consolidated their position with rigid defence until the seventy second minute when Kevin Appo blasted through the line to score. Lilley added the conversion for 20-32 with seven minutes remaining.
The win was sealed on seventy-five with Ben Laguerre taking advantage of a Holmes error as he slid over in the corner for 36-20 off a Ralph miss-out pass. Brochon added the touchline conversion for an eighteen-point lead.
It was a defiant performance from the Bulls but ultimately, they didn’t have enough to hold on for eighty minutes against a well-drilled side with aspirations of a return to Super League after their relegation at the end of the 2022 season. Bradford bow out of the competition for 2023, but Toulouse will look forward to their Million Pound Game next Sunday and a chance of an immediate return to the top flight.
Toulouse Olympique XIII: Santo (T, 2G), Laguerre M, Armitage (T), Laguerre B (2T), Marcon (T), Brochon (3G), Ralph (T), Belmas, Gahan, Hansen, Lima, Stefani (T), Marion. Subs: Pelissier, Bretherton, Akauola, Peyroux. 18th Man: Biscarro.
Bradford Bulls: Holmes, Blackmore, Arundel (T), Gill, Taufua (T), Gaskell, Lilley (4G), Lawrence, Flanagan Snr, Doro, Butler, Wallace, Baitieri (SB on 6). Subs: Jowitt, Okoro, Appo (T), Rogers. 18th Man: Wynne.
Score Progression: (SB), 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 10-4, 10-6, 14-6, 16-6, 20-6, 22-6, 22-8 : HT: 26-8, 28-8, 28-12, 28-14, 32-14, 32-18, 32-20, 36-20, 38-20 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Toulouse.
Referee: James Vella.