He may not be considered good enough for the Great Britain squad selected by his former Bulls coach Brian Noble last week, but Paul Deacon was Bradford's inspiration as the reigning champions moved to within one game of their sixth successive Grand Final.
Deacon, who collected 24 points from two tries and eight goals from as many attempts, earned his side a trip to Hull next Friday with a match-winning score 12 minutes from time. Taking Iestyn Harris's pass, the Bulls scrum-half left two defenders clutching thin air as he stepped off his right foot and under the posts to deny Warrington, who had fought back from 18-0 down to lead 24-22.
Lesley Vainikolo confirmed the Bulls' stirring win with a magnificent 90-metre try six minutes from the end, after a desperate Warrington move had broken down, and Michael Withers completed his hat-trick in the dying seconds, touching down Terry Newton's kick for his ninth try in his last five games.
"It was a fantastic game in the way of spectacle and incident and thankfully we came out on the right side," said Steve McNamara, the Bulls coach. "Deacon was fantastic again and his hard work in training is paying dividends."
Just as they had a week ago against Salford, the Bulls dominated the opening quarter, again building an 18-0 lead inside as many minutes, despite losing their player of the year, Andy Lynch, to a broken ankle in the third minute. Withers finished off a crisp five-man handling move as the Bulls opened their account in the fifth minute, Deacon's conversion seeing him past 2,000 career points. Withers then sliced over after taking Brad Meyers' offload and when Deacon supported a rampaging Karl Pryce for a third try, the Bulls looked as good as through.
But Warrington showed great character, backed by a 5,000-strong travelling army of fans on the steep Odsal terraces. Again their inspiration came from Lee Briers, who went over from Mark Gleeson's sharp pass before chipping delicately over Vainikolo for Henry Fa'afili to reduce the gap to 10 points.
Mike Sullivan and Briers both went close and the Bulls were grateful for Deacon's fourth goal of the half, a well-struck 45-metre penalty.
Warrington had to score first in the second half to stay in the contest, and thanks to Toa Kohe-Love they managed it, the Kiwi centre crossing in the corner from Chris Bridge's long pass. Four minutes later Bridge's cut-out pass released Kohe-Love again, and he combined with Richie Barnett and Mike Wainwright to send Stuart Reardon.
With Briers adding both conversions Warrington, astonishingly, held a 22-20 lead after 51 minutes. Deacon and Briers then swapped penalties as the tension intensified in a compelling encounter, before Deacon's brilliance decided the issue.
"We had Bradford bent over backwards and couldn't quite finish the job," said Paul Cullen, the Warrington coach. "Our dressing room is like a morgue as we almost had it won."
Bradford: Withers; Bai, B Harris, Hape, Vainikolo; I Harris, Deacon; Vagana, Newton, Lynch, McKenna, Meyers, Ferres. Substitutes used: Cook, Burgess, Henderson, Pryce.
Warrington: Reardon; Fa'afili, Martin Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Barnett; Briers, Bridge; Wood, Mark Gleeson, Rauhihi, Swann, Wainwright, Westwood. Substitutes used: Grose, Parker, Sullivan, Pickersgill.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).Reuse content