Bradford 40 Warrington 24: Withers steers Bulls to Grand Final

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The Independent Online

If, as is anticipated, this was Michael Withers' last appearance in a Bulls' jersey at Odsal then the 30-year-old Australian full-back certainly bowed out in style.

Expected to join his former Bradford coach Brian Noble at Wigan next season, Withers poached a high class hat-trick as the defending champions just warded off a brave Warrington challenge in an epic encounter on Saturday evening, despite losing their player of the year, the prop Andy Lynch, with a broken ankle.

While the Wolves and their 5,000 travelling army of fans can contemplate the season's end, Bradford go to Hull next Friday evening with their hopes of a sixth successive Grand Final burning brightly.

Withers, who scored two early tries and added a late clincher when dubiously awarded the touchdown from the outstanding Terry Newton's kick, took his try-scoring sequence to nine in his last five games, finding peak form at exactly the right time.

"Michael was really strong when we needed him," said the Bulls coach, Steve McNamara. "He has experienced every one of those five Grand Finals [plus another in 1999] and knows the route to Old Trafford. He adds composure to the side, has a great defence and the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time."

Withers, together with Newton and Paul Deacon, spearheaded the Bulls' victory march after Warrington had fought back from 18-0 behind to lead 24-22 just after the hour. Deacon, despite being omitted from Noble's Great Britain squad for the Tri-Nations, produced another top-class display with a 24-point haul from two tries and eight goals, passing 2,000 career points along the way.

"It was good to get a hat-trick, but more important to get the win," Withers said. "We got off to a good start, but fair play to Warrington for the way they came back. We had to turn things around to regain the momentum. Obviously, Hull is a hard place to go, but we are confident."

McNamara described Deacon's performance as "fantastic. He keeps the scoreboard ticking over with his outstanding goal-kicking, but the way we have encouraged him to carry the ball more is paying dividends. He has worked really hard in training and is reaping the rewards."

Warrington, again inspired by Lee Briers, rued the cruel nature of play-off football. "The margins at this level are so small," said Paul Cullen, the Wolves coach. "It was a massive effort to turn around an 18-0 deficit. We had Bradford bent over backwards and couldn't quite finish it."

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).

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