Bradford, the Super League leaders virtually all the season, became the first side into the grand final as they repelled Wigan's second-half efforts at Valley Parade last night.
Two tries from Robbie Paul and the immaculate goal-kicking of his brother, Henry who finished with eight from nine attempts, saw Bradford dominate the first half, but Wigan, without ever reaching their best, showed tremendous fight after the break to go close to snatching back the spoils.
"We should have gone in 20 points ahead,'' said the Bulls' coach, Brian Noble. "We tried to give them the game the best we could in the second half with our errors, but we defended manfully when we had to.
Wigan were fortunate to still be in the match at half-time. As in their previous visit to the ground this season, they were outplayed in the early stages and started to concede points when Henry Paul put over a penalty after an offside.
Harvey Howard's shocking pass then allowed James Lowes to snap up possession and Bradford exploited the gift when Robbie Paul dummied his way over and Henry added the goal. Bradford had chances to extend their lead when Henry Paul missed a penalty from halfway after Andy Farrell put his kick-off out on the full and when Michael Withers appeared to touch down from Lowes' kick, only to be denied by the video referee.
"I thought it was a try. Most people in the stand and at home thought it was a try,'' said Noble, who was visibly angry.
The Bulls did extend their lead when Kris Radlinski's uncharacteristic fumble caught Brian Carney offside and the penalty this time went over safely. Wigan's Steve Renouf – who could be playing for Bradford next season – intercepted from Robbie Paul for a try completely against the run of play.
Farrell's conversion made it a laughably slender four-point margin, but Bradford stretched it again when, after another Radlinski knock-on, Robbie Paul got over once more, with Tevita Vaikona and Withers doing the approach work.
Radlinski had some making up to do after the most error-prone half anyone can remember from him, and he began his rehabilitation by getting through a gap after good work from Terry Newton and Adrian Lam. Wigan had pulled it back to a six-point gap and, on the balance of play, they could be absolutely delighted with that scoreline
Wigan performed much better after the break, but only after their indiscipline cost them three penalties that consolidated Bradford's lead. Farrell pulled one back and was then responsible, after Newton had had a try disallowed, for the score that gave Wigan a glimmer of hope. There was limitless determination in the way the Wigan captain strode through midfield and through a long, looping pass to David Hodgson on the right flank. The winger also did well by diving early and sliding over the line and Farrell's kick from the touchline took his side to within one score of taking the contest into extra time.
They could not quite achieve that and must now beat St Helens at the JJB Stadium next Saturday if they are to earn another crack at the Bulls at Old Trafford a week later. Their coach, Stuart Raper, was honest enough to acknowledged that they had not deserved to travel to the grand final on the fast track.
"The better side won,'' said Raper. "We didn't play very good rugby league in the first half but we hung in there. We get a second chance and this should make us stronger.''
Bradford: Withers, Vaikona, Naylor, Mackay, Pryce, H Paul, R Paul, Vagana, Lowes, McDermott, Gartner, Peacock, Forshaw. Substitutes used: Deacon, Rigon, Fielden, Anderson.
Wigan: Radlinski, Carney, Connolly, Renouf, Johnson, Johns, Lam, O'Connor, Newton, Howard, Cassidy, Furner, Farrell. Substitutes used: Cowie, Betts, Hodgson.
Referee: R Smith (Castleford).Reuse content