Rugby league: Bulls rush to championship

Sheffield Eagles 12 Bradford Bulls 32
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The Independent Online
Bradford duly wrapped up the Stones Super League title with three matches of the season remaining, clinching their first championship for 16 years and the first by any Yorkshire side for 11.

But until three tries in the last 10 minutes killed them off, Sheffield put up the sort of fight that Bradford have only rarely had to overcome during their triumphant campaign.

The stage was set from the start for Bradford to complete their achievement in front of a record Don Valley stadium crowd of 10,500, largely composed of their own travelling fans, whose enthusiasm has contributed so much to the flavour of the season.

But for an hour the occasion stubbornly refused to follow the script, with Sheffield playing the more controlled and effective rugby. Perhaps it was the proximity of the prize, but Bradford were more like colts than Bulls in the first half, repeatedly trying to force the pace.

Yet they took the lead after 16 minutes when Danny Peacock, whose directness in the centres has been such an asset this season, took Steve McNamara's pass and proved too strong for the Sheffield cover tacklers. But that did little to settle Bradford's nerves, as they were still prone to the unforced error and vulnerable to Sheffield's more methodical approach.

Although they were unlucky on a couple of occasions, two tries in eight minutes before half-time gave the home side, fresh from their win over Wigan last week, an interval lead that was thoroughly deserved.

Whetu Taewa got the first, taking a pass from Mark Aston and selling a dummy that was naively accepted by Abi Ekoku to go through the gap and touch down and then Danny McAllister got over the line, with some unexpected help from Bradford full-back Stuart Spruce.

McAllister, running off Paul Broadbent's excellent pass, had been brought down just short of the line. Spruce, losing his sense of direction, effectively dragged him into a scoring position to complete a thoroughly uncomfortable and unconvincing first half for the champions elect.

"When you have support like we had tonight, you are accountable to a lot of people," said the Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott. "After that first half, we were in danger of letting them down."

An altogether more purposeful attitude was evident from the restart and it was not long before Bradford drew level through a try of stark simplicity. Brian McDermott drove to the line and James Lowes delayed his pass fractionally to allow Bernard Dwyer to stroll in.

Despite that lapse, Sheffield were far from finished. They went ahead again with Aston's penalty after Spruce was sent to the sin bin for holding down, but then went behind to two penalties from McNamara.

The match was still in the balance going into the last 10 minutes, and Bradford could not start celebrating until Jeff Wittenberg crashed over. That finally broke Sheffield's resistance and in the last few minutes Lowes and Mike Forshaw both went over for further tries to leave a scoreline Elliott admitted flattered Bradford. "I'm not going to analyse the match," he said. "We have something else to aim for now. No side has ever gone through a season in the top division unbeaten and we want to have a crack at that."

That is the mark of Bradford. Even at the moment of triumph, when they could be excused for resting on their laurels, they are contemplating their next challenge. It is what has made them such a formidable force this year and why they are the worthiest of champions.

Sheffield Eagles: Sovatabua; Pinkney, Morganson, Taewa, Crowther; Mycoe, Aston; Broadbent, Vassilakopoulos, Thompson, Senior, McAllister, Doyle. Substitutes: Wright, Erba, Laughton, Garcia.

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Ekoku, Peacock, Loughlin, Scales; Bradley, Paul; McDermott, Lowes, Wittenberg, Nickle, Donougher, McNamara. Substitutes: Reihana, Forshaw, Dwyer, Tomlinson.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

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