Bulls aim to revive play-off push
Bradford Bulls’ flagging Super League play-off hopes will be on the line when they entertain Challenge Cup semi-finalists Hull FC tomorrow.
The Bulls have gone into freefall since April, winning just one of their last 10 matches to drop from third to 10th, and need to beat Hull to keep alive their hopes of securing a first top-eight finish for five years.
Victory would enable them to close the gap on the eighth-placed Black and Whites to just two points but a seventh straight defeat would leave them six behind with only five matches left.
"They are all big ones now for us," Bulls coach Francis Cummins said. "It's quite obvious we need to knock over these teams to give us a chance of the eight.
"We have improved in recent weeks and we need to get a result to keep us in the fight. We believe we can do that.
"It's a pivotal one for us because Hull are a good side and, if we get a win over them, then the confidence can come flooding back and that would set us up for the rest of the season."
Hull are just as desperate for the points after four consecutive defeats saw them slip out of the top four.
They halted their losing run in the stifling heat of Perpignan last Saturday when overcoming Catalan Dragons to reach the last four of the cup and Cummins believes next week's crunch clash with Warrington Wolves could be on their minds.
"I hope they are worried about the semi-final and perhaps some of our players will be reminding them about that," said Cummins, whose side have lost their last seven meetings with Hull.
Hull coach Peter Gentle insists his players will be fully focused on getting their play-off campaign back on track and is confident they have fully recovered from their gruelling encounter in the south of France.
"Keeping the guys fresh has been the main thing this week and I think the physios and conditioning staff have done a terrific job in doing that," Gentle said.
"We needed to get over the cup win and focus on preparing for Bradford. This is a very important game for us and everything else has to go on the backburner."
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, too, face a crucial play-off test tomorrow when they visit champions Leeds Rhinos.
The Wildcats have moved to within two points of Hull with a game in hand after winning their last four matches but coach Richard Agar admits the loss of stand-off Paul Sykes with a broken leg - possibly for the rest of the campaign - is a major blow.
"It's going to be touch and go whether he gets back before the end of the season and he'll be a loss for us," Agar said. "It puts a lot of emphasis on how we kick the ball."
Agar is considering giving a debut to half-back Bobbie Goulding, the 19-year-old son of the former St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half of the same name, who has been playing on loan at Dewsbury.
"We've got a couple of options at half-back," he said. "Young Bob has been making really good progress and we've put him in the 19.
"Whether he plays in this one, I'm not too sure, but he's not far away from getting a run with us, certainly before the end of the year."
Elsewhere tomorrow, bottom club London Broncos will look to put their cup semi-final against Wigan Warriors to the back of their minds when they visit Widnes Vikings while Catalan Dragons need to put their cup disappointment behind them when they go to Salford City Reds.
Widnes, who beat the Broncos on the opening day of the season, have already exceeded last year's points total but, with only one win from their last nine matches, coach Denis Betts is calling for a big finish.
"We've got a mini season within itself now," he said. "I know the league table doesn't look like we've been competitive but we've been in the fight a number of times.
"It's been tough on the players. We can see huge steps forward but we're not getting the rewards and that creates anxiety and frustration."
The Dragons have lost touch with the league leaders after winning only two of their last five matches.