Bradford Bulls will today get their reward for being the most consistent side in the Super League this season. Like every team in the competition, the Bulls have had their peaks and troughs during the campaign, but to guarantee themselves first place going into the play-offs with two weeks of the league programme to spare shows them to be the steadiest of the lot.
In previous seasons, that would have merely brought them the advantages of a home draw and a short route to the Grand Final. This year, however, they also get the new League Leaders' Trophy, which will be presented to them at tonight's home match against Castleford.
The presentation will add a sense of occasion to what could have been a slightly pointless evening, because Castleford have only a remote, mathematical chance of fighting their way into the top six. The trophy provides an excuse for a party, although the Bradford coach, Brian Noble, was fairly dismissive of the concept after they clinched it by beating Leeds last week, laying all the emphasis on the battles still to come in the play-offs.
Despite the absence of key players such as Robbie Paul, who will learn next week whether his season is over or not, and Stuart Fielden, the Bulls still look the best-equipped side for the business end of the season. And although that first place is already in the bag, they will want to sustain their momentum into the play-offs and the home match against Leeds or Wigan that awaits them.
It will be a very different Bradford side next season, with players such as Scott Naylor, James Lowes, Daniel Gartner, Mike Forshaw and Lee Gilmour all on their way out of Odsal. Those are players who will all want to bow out as winners - and that is a factor which could make the Bulls even more formidable.
In today's only other game, the agony finally ends for Halifax at Wakefield. Without a single point and relegated weeks ago, they will be glad to wave farewell to the 2003 season and relieved to be able to face 2004 with the club out of administration and with their coach, Tony Anderson, pledging himself to the task of rebuilding.
Wakefield, the next-worst side in the Super League but 13 points better off, have already started their rebuilding, with the departure of veterans Adrian Vowles and Brad Davis and the signing of David Solomona, the Kiwi Test forward, who could be one of the more exciting newcomers to the competition next year.
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