Rugby League: Bradley ready for 'fairy tale'

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The Independent Online
THE RESURGENCE of Graeme Bradley since he decided that this year would be his last can help carry the Bradford Bulls into the top five - and beyond, writes Dave Hadfield.

Victory at Wigan tomorrow would send the Bulls into the play-offs with a new impetus. "The biggest prize for winning at Wigan would be the confidence that it would give us and the message it would send out to other sides," Bradley said.

The 34-year-old Australian has been involved in play-offs often enough in his home country to know that a side "on a roll" can win the competition from fifth place.

"It's still a tough task, but I believe that it's easier to do it now, with full-time players, than it was in the past, when the week off was such an advantage for the first-placed side."

As Bradford's assistant coach, Brian Noble, argued after last week's victory over Warrington, it is the return to form of key players such as Bradley and James Lowes that has kept the Super League champions in with a chance of retaining their title.

In Bradley's case, that renaissance has coincided with his decision to retire. "Once I'd decided, it was easier to concentrate on just playing rather than everything else," he said.

Now the prospect of wrapping up his career with a winners' medal, after five losing Challenge Cups or Australian Grand Finals, is an extra incentive to him during the run-in.

"Everybody would like to finish their story in a fairy tale fashion," he said, "and winning it from fifth would certainly be that."

The Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott, gave his players a break from training this week and must now decide whether to continue with last week's experiment of starting with Bradley at stand-off and with Robbie Paul on the bench.

Bradley could be needed back in his more regular position of centre if Nathan McAvoy, is ruled out, or Elliott could decide that Paul looked sufficiently refreshed last week to deserve to start. Prop Brian McDermott is back in contention.

Wigan have Danny Moore fit again after a knee injury, but he returns on the bench, with Paul Johnson retaining his place in the centres, while Stephen Holgate, lined up for a transfer to Hull, is in the second row for Denis Betts, also ruled out by a knee problem.

The day's other significant game sees Hull Kingston Rovers meet Featherstone for the right to play Wakefield Trinity in the inaugural First Division Grand Final next week.

Hull KR's record over the season proper was the better, but Featherstone have run into invigorating form recently and go into this final eliminator on the back of the sort of late run that Bradford will try to duplicate.