FLASHBACK: Challenge Cup

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While Wembley Stadium was being rebuilt from 2000 to 2006 an alternative venue was needed to stage Challenge Cup finals. Unlike the football association who had plumped for one venue, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the Rugby League would utilised three top Rugby Union stadiums Edinburgh’s Murrayfield, Twickenham and, the Welsh venue.

The Bulls won the first Cup final on the “road”, in the Scottish capital defeating local rivals Leeds, bringing the trophy back to Bradford for the first time in 51 years. The final was in doubt because of major flooding at the ground only two days before the final. It took a tremendous effort by the ground staff to make not only the pitch but the whole stadium ready for the match.

For the Bulls the route to Edinburgh was straight forward with wins over the Giants, Wakefield and Halifax before romping past Warrington at Headingley in the semi-final.

The Bulls started well, Henry Paul slotting over a penalty after being taken out by Barry McDermott. Bradford exploited Leeds outer right flank with high kicks from Henry Paul leading first to Tavita Vaikona scoring in the corner, seven minutes later the same kick lead to Withers scoring. Lowes and Boyle combined to set Nathan McAvoy down the right wing who chipped over Leeds fullback Harris caught  his own kick to score a spectacular try. In response all Leeds had was a penalty by Harris at half-time.

The second period saw another Harris penalty before Fielden scored a converted try from another high kick by Henry Paul. With the score at 20-4 most believed Leeds would throw the towel in, but a try from Hay and a conversion by Harris making it 20-10 followed shortly by another penalty 20-12.  A foul on Robbie Paul enabled Henry to increase the lead by another two points. Harris kicked again this time, Marcus St Hilaire managed to get finger touch control for a converted try. With only four points separating the West Yorkshire giants there was a few anxious minutes before another Henry Paul penalty gave Bradford a six point advantage just before the final hooter.

The following season the Bulls again reached the final, this at the expense of Widnes, Halifax, Wakefield and Warrington a massing 199 points on route. The final was played at the once unlikely setting of Twickenham headquarters of the RFU. Played in a constant drizzle the game never lived up to the pre-match hype. Both teams failed to deliver the style of rugby that had made them the country’s highest scoring sides. Saints completely nullified the Bulls attack. Bradford could only muster three penalty goals from the ever reliable Henry Paul. Saint’s first try followed the sin-binning of Shane Rigon, Sean Long elected to run the ensuing penalty, within the next set of six, Long’s short kick hit the post and Tommy Martyn dived on the loose ball. Fifteen minutes later from another Sean Long kick the ball ricocheted of Gartner and Cunningham swooped on the ball to score their second converted try. The only further scores were two goals from Henry Paul and a Martyn drop goal Saints 13 Bulls 6.

The season started with a Cup win at Warrington, followed by a horror performance at Saints to open their Bulls Super League account from then to the final the Bulls registered eight successive wins including four cup ties, against Hunslet, Widnes, and Wigan. Due to the winning run which saw the Bulls in second position in the Super League, Bradford approached the final in a confident mood despite Leeds topping the table.

The final played at the under the Millennium stadium roof lived up to all the pre-match hype as the derby rivals battled tooth and nail for the first trophy of the season. Before the match Rhinos coach Daryl Powell made the controversial decision to not include Danny McGuire. The game had everything that a derby match should have.

First Robbie Paul scored a try that Deacon converted followed four minutes later by a controversial video ref decision awarding a try to Leeds fullback Connolly, Sinfield converted. Barrie McDermott took out Gartner in back play, Deacon slotted over the penalty, only for it to be cancelled out by a Sinfield penalty after Lowes was penalised for stealing. Leeds were the next to score when Sinfield’s kick was missed by both Vanikola and Calderdale missed, McKenna score despite the efforts of Hape.

With just two minutes to play before half-time a long pass from Pryce to Deacon who chipped the ball into the corner for Vainikolo to score, Deacon’s conversion levelling the score 14-14.

Bulls regained the lead early in the second half through another Deacon, kick which Peacock caught and placed the ball down for a try with three Leeds defenders trying to hold him up.

 

Leeds started to apply constant pressure on the Bradford line for numerous sets. A Sinfield kick early in the tackle count saw Calderwood look to outpace Vainikolo who stumbled and brought the Leeds winger down which had the Rhinos supporters and players screaming for a penalty.

On 51 minutes Deacon extended the lead by two, converting a penalty 22-14. Only for Leeds to hit with a well worked move that saw Furner walk over for a converted try reducing the cap to two points. In the latter stages pressure from Leeds resulted in a “Kickable” penalty for Sinfield, who elected to run the ball against a tiring Bulls defence rather than “take the two”. Bradford’s defence held out.

This cribbing final ended in chaos; the stadium clock read 80 minutes, somebody in the stadium sound a hooter. The Bulls player threw their arms in the air in celebration. The official time keeper had yet to sound the hooter with over a minute left the Bulls had to refocus and with stand a final onslaught

This match had everything, both sets of supporters players, and club officials had endured an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. Both clubs felt cheated by the video ref who was used five times. The win was to complete a unique treble for Bradford; there are the only club to win the Challenge Cup in three different countries, conversely Leeds are the only club to lose finals in three different countries.

 

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