Published in Thirteen in 2005
by Rob Shaw
Super League Grand Final
Bradford Bulls v Wigan Warriors
13th October, 2001
Old Trafford, Att: 60,164
Great memories don’t always stem from great matches.
The 2001 Grand Final was an uncompetitive affair, played in dismal conditions one October evening, and was not the type of match the RFL had in mind when they inaugurated the finals system back in 1998.
But for Bulls fans this final provided an abundance of great memories, and perhaps more importantly it was the match where Noble and his troupe managed to rid themselves of the metaphorical ‘monkey’ on their backs.
Losses to Saints at Twickenham and two years previously in the 1999 Grand Final had earned the Bulls the unenviable tag of ‘Chokers’ – and what a way to stuff that tag down the critics throats – with the biggest Grand Final victory to date!
For myself, the match started with a desperate hunt for a ticket tout to swap my tickets for a pair in the Bradford end, with mission accomplished I headed into the stadium and wasted another tenner on some first try-scorer bets. Jimmy Lowes at 25-1? That’s godda be worth a few quid!
Bradford applied pressure to the Wigan line from the off, and just a few moments in and Wigan were dropping out from under their own posts.
It seemed like we’d hardly found our seats before Jimmy Lowes was diving over for the first try of the evening. Jimmy Lowes?? I was nearly falling over the concrete parapet on the second tier. It couldn’t get any better than this, could it? It could. With the beer and ticket paid for with change left over, the evening went from great to seventh heaven.
Bradford continued to dominate with Robbie and Henry linking up in midfield for their last time together in the red, amber and black vees.
Henry’s 50-metre break down field was halted by some desperate scrambling defence, but the damage had been done. Withers went over in Jimmy Lowes’ style for the opening try of his first half hat-trick, and Wigan’s Irish speedster, Brian Carney, left the field haemorrhaging blood from a knee wound, not to return.
Wigan threatened to make a game of it at this point, and applied a little pressure of their own, but as Stevo would say, the fish-and-chip wrappers indicate the Bulls withstood the assault and answered with an attack of their own.
Naylor down the right flank shattered the shackles of the Wigan defence and set Vaikona free who sent Withers ghosting over for his second. At 22-nil it was beginning to look easy now, but Bradford fans will never take a big lead in a final for granted after Wembley ‘96.
The fans’ were still hugging each other in glee when Withers completed his hat-trick just moments later. Cheers were now turning to incredulous exclamations rather than the exuberant roar that would normally escort a Grand Final try.
26-nil at half time, Bradford had the match sewn up. Hadn’t they? There was still a nervous tension amongst the Bradford supporters as they watched the clock count down. Those 40 minutes were the longest 40 minutes in the club’s history – especially when Lam reduced the arrears to 20 points with just less than 20 remaining. The 20,000 Bradford fans checked their watches and simultaneously performed a bit of mental arithmetic: 20 points in 20 minutes? 4 tries? Its not our title yet!
Thankfully, Fielden dived over in the corner into a litter of ticker-tape and unravelled loo roll to wipe out any flicker of a Wigan comeback.
Henry Paul slotted over a drop goal to make it 31-6 and Mackay completed the scoring with a try and conversion to mark his last, emotional appearance in a Bradford Jersey.
With a new record crowd that broke through the 60,000 mark, the feel good factor lasted a good while in Bradford. Personally, I can’t remember much more of that particular night apart from the beer tasting particularly sweet.
A large panoramic print in my hallway shows Fielden going over for the 65th minute try that sealed it, and each day brings back a small part of the feel good factor from that wet October evening at the Theatre of Dreams.
Bradford: Michael Withers; Tevita Vaikona, Scott Naylor, Graham Mackay, Leon Pryce; Henry Paul, Robbie Paul; Joe Vagana, James Lowes, Brian McDermott, Danny Gartner, Jamie Peacock, Mike Forshaw. Subs: Paul Anderson, Shane Rigon, Paul Deacon & Stuart Fielden
Wigan: Kris Radlinski; Brett Dallas, Gary Connolly, Steve Renouf, Brian Carney; Matthew Johns, Adrian Lam; Terry O’Connor, Terry Newton, Harvey Howard, Mick Cassidy, Dave Furner, Andy Farrell. Subs: Neil Cowie, Denis Betts, Paul Johnson & Chris Chester