Ten performances that shook the world: Rugby League - Pride of Europe h umbled by the worst team from antipodean elite
Saturday 27 December 1997
The game that argued this most forcefully was not one of the monumental thrashings that British teams suffered at the hands of antipodean opposition, but the Bradford Bulls' four-point defeat by Auckland at Odsal on the second weekend of the competition.
To put it brutally, we knew that the Halifaxes and Oldhams were heading for some dreadful beatings, but the Bulls were a very different proposition: they had already established themselves as the dominant team in European Super League and they were, after all, facing the bottom side in the equivalent competition down under.
Auckland had sacked their coach, John Monie, and had proved incapable of winning games when the pressure was on. The sheer power of a Bradford team urged on by a big home crowd would be surely too much for them - and a positive result could even prove a turning point for Britain in the WCC as a whole.
When Auckland had Syd Eru sent off for a high tackle towards the end of the first half, Bradford's task looked highly manageable, despite an 8-2 deficit at the interval.
However, with too many players below their best, they struggled to get back on terms and then lost the match 20-16 to a late try from Paul Staladi.
Bradford finished up losing all six of their group games - the three away matches by big margins - damning evidence that, while they might be miles ahead of the opposition in Britain, they simply did not rate in world terms.
The quirky nature of the tournament meant that they still qualified for the quarter-finals, where they were beaten for a third time by Auckland, 62-14.
No British team reached the semi-finals, which prompted plenty of much- needed soul-searching about the shortcomings of the game here.
Bradford drew their own lessons from the humiliation. Last season's squad would have been strong enough to make them favourites for the Super League title in 1998, but they moved to address the weaknesses exposed by the WCC, signing a vastly experienced on-field general in Shaun Edwards and a middle-back of genuine pace in Tevita Vaikona.
Their British rivals might live to regret the wake-up call that Auckland gave them.
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