Rugby league: Bradley the Bulls hitter

Challenge Cup final: Bradford bank on an awkward customer as holders let loose Hammond. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online
If, alongside the other poll this week, there was one to find the man that opposition players and supporters find most irritating, Graeme Bradley would be the winner in a landslide. He accepts the compliment.

"I've always been very, very competitive," said the Bradford Bulls club captain, who will set out at Wembley on Saturday to be at his most annoying, awkward and aggravating.

It is to Bradley that Bradford will look for the hard, mean streak that they will need if they are to reverse last year's Silk Cut Challenge Cup final defeat by St Helens. For all their natural flair, it is his raw- boned cussedness that will set the tone. It is astonishing how often opponents come away from a confrontation with Bradley clutching some part of their anatomy in agony. It can look suspiciously like they have been in a collision with a sack of chisels. "I've always been awkward," he says of his angular build. "Wherever they hit me, it's going to hurt them." At 33, the Australian who did the rounds of Winfield Cup clubs before coming to Bradford last season is hurting opponents as much as ever.

There were those at Rugby League headquarters, however, who thought that the Bulls - and Bradley in particular - had overstepped the mark in a semi-final victory over Leeds that was notable for its verbal as well as its physical combativeness. Bradford received a written warning about the sledging that took place in that match at Huddersfield but Bradley remains unrepentant. "It has been blown out of all proportion," he said. "It was just ridiculous for the club to get a letter like that.

"I've been in the game for 13 years and it has always gone on. Some of the best fun is when you play against blokes you know. You give them heaps and then you have a beer afterwards." That is the Bradley philosophy and he is not going to alter it at this stage of the game to satisfy others' sensibilities.

Another tenet by which he runs his career is that second place means absolutely nothing. Although he has twice been on the losing side at Wembley, he has no idea what a runners-up medal looks like. As with the one he collected with Castleford in 1992, last year's consolation prize meant little to him. "I never even looked at them. I gave them straight to my mum and they're probably in the back of some cupboard somewhere."

There is a theory, in Australia as well as in England, that when it comes to major finals, you have to lose one before you can win one. Bradley will go along with it this week. "I'll subscribe to any theory that says we're going to win. The advantage that we have this time is that we're going in with a reasonably settled side, not like last year when we had to change the team because of the new players who weren't qualified to play at Wembley."

Having said that, the Bulls have not been as settled so far this season as Bradley or his coach, Matthew Elliott, would like. Despite their unbeaten start to the Super League season, Bradley argues that there have not been too many impressive performances. "It may have something to do with the injuries we've had but we've won a lot of matches by pulling it out in the last 10 minutes."

The comings and goings of personnel have forced a variety of roles on him this season. A centre by trade, he has often played stand-off and has moved into the pack on occasion. Although Bradley says that his favourite position is "the one where I have to do least tackling", Elliott knows that he is equally capable of tormenting the opposition in any of them.

Playing the game is the part Bradley loves - unlike training. "I've never liked it and I still don't, so there's no deterioration there," he says of the preparatory slog. It will be all worthwhile if Bradley finally obtains his winner's medal on Saturday. It will be accorded a little more attention than the ones for coming second, but he does not care how he earns it. "I really don't give tuppence whether the final is another classic like last year. It can be the worst game in history as long as we win it."

He might not win many popularity polls away from Odsal but the Bradley manifesto for Saturday's showpiece is all the more convincing for its lack of empty promises.

If Bradford do not win, it will not be because he has suddenly started worrying about peripherals such as whether the game looks pretty or the outside world likes him.

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