Inspired Bulls win a classic

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Rugby League

Bradford Bulls 20 Wigan 12

Bradford defied all logic by coming back from 10 points and one man down to do to Wigan what they did to St Helens last week and throw the Stones Super League title race wide open once more.

It is simply a well-known fact that sides do not beat Wigan after giving them a start and losing a player, but the Bulls overcame the handicap of having Jeremy Donougher sent off for a high tackle midway through the first half to produce a performance that was equal parts guts and glitter. But thenover the last eight days, it has not been Wigan or Saints who have looked the country's best side, but the resurgent Bulls.

The biggest crowd at Odsal since the end of one division rugby in 1973 saw a classic, but one that stubbornly refused to abide by the script. Surely Bradford needed the sort of start with which they had blown Saints away a week earlier. Instead, they fell behind to tries from Danny Ellison and Henry Paul and then compounded the damage by having Donougher dismissed for an off balance lunge at Simon Haughton.

The inspirational qualities of Brian Smith, the coach they will lose back to Australia at the end of this season, have rarely been more vigorously tested.

He had something to work with at half-time after Paul Medley had forced his way over to demonstrate that his side were not going to lie down and wait for the inevitable.

"We knew it was going to be a real test of our mettle," Smith said. "I told them they had to find something extra and they did that tremendously well."

Within three minutes of the restart, Bradford had shown their intentions, some dazzling handling culminating in Brian McDermott's lobbed pass to send Bernard Dwyer over for the equalising try.

Pure improvisation put them ahead, Robbie Paul grabbing a long pass that had gone astray and finding Paul Loughlin, whose overhead pass released Jon Scales.

It seemed that the pressure of playing a man short was starting to tell on them when Andy Farrell landed a penalty to bring Wigan within four points, but Bradford were not deflated, their favourite blindside move putting Scales in for his second try and making the points safe.

"We were beaten fair and square" said the Wigan coach, Graeme West, who must now expect Saints to take over at the top again tomorrow night. "Our ball control in the second half was just so bad."

Smith called it "one of the highlights of my coaching career," but damped down thoughts that Bradford could yet win the championship themselves. "It's out of our hands and out of our control," he said.

Maybe, but it was hard to avoid wondering what sort of side Bradford could be if they had another season or two under him.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Tamani, Calland, Loughlin, Scales; Bradley, R Paul; McDermott, Lowes, Fairbank, Donougher, Dwyer, McNamara. Substitutes: Tomlinson, Medley, Nickle.

Wigan: Radlinski; Robinson, Connolly, Tuigamala, Ellison; H Paul, Edwards; O'Connor, Hall, Cassidy, Haughton, Farrell, Johnson. Substitutes: Long, Murdock, Knowles, Barrow.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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