Rugby League: Northern see some daylight: Bradford top

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The Independent Online
Bradford Northern. . .10

Wigan. . . . . . . . . 6

A SUPERLATIVE performance by Bradford Northern sent them to the top of the First Division and opened the prospect of their first championship in 13 years.

A match that fully lived up to its billing as the game of the season leaves Bradford two points clear of Wigan with the return match to come on Friday night.

If it is half as enthralling as this, few will be disappointed and if Bradford can reproduce the power and purpose they showed here last night they will be worthy champions.

Bradford were quicker into their stride when the game got under way after a 10-minute delay to get the crowds through the Odsal turnstiles. Swift and creative handling, with Deryck Fox always the orchestrator, put Wigan under almost constant pressure in the first quarter.

Gary Connolly, moved to full-back for the occasion, had to get his angles right to keep out Gerald Cordle and Wigan were a shade fortunate to avoid a penalty when Denis Betts took out Cordle after the wing had kicked ahead on another raid.

Next, Fox's kick forced Martin Offiah to scramble to get to the ball ahead of Carl Hall and Fox also went close to dummying his own way through.

Nothing had yet been seen of Wigan as an attacking force, but a warning that Bradford should have had points to show for their early dominance first arrived when Shaun Edwards and then Frano Botica were stopped near the line.

The ebb and flow of what was becoming a compelling contest was maintained when Connolly twice saved Wigan, once with a masterful tackle to wrap up Paul Medley and again when he won a race against Cordle following a kick through.

Bradford deserved to break the deadlock, however, and they did so after 31 minutes. Wigan thought they had survived the worst when they halted Paul Newlove on the line, but rapid handling between Fox, Karl Fairbank and Medley sent Hall charging over wide on the right.

Wigan left it until first-half injury-time to reply, Edwards weaving his way through for the precious try and Botica's goal putting them into the lead.

If Bradford were psychologically wounded, it did not show. Three minutes after the restart, Wigan were wrong-footed by Dave Watson's dummy and Fairbank twisted over to score. Fox's difficult goal was a bonus.

Bradford had a marvellous chance to extend their lead when Fox's break sent Newlove running clear. He fed Cordle, but the overworked Connolly somehow managed to jar the ball loose over the line.

Connolly saved Wigan again by winning another round of his running battle with Cordle, stopping the Welshman after a 70-yard run that once more threatened to put Bradford in an impregnable position.

Those missed chances could have come back to haunt Bradford, but they kept their composure in a nerve-racking last 10 minutes to keep Wigan out. Now they merely have to do it all over again at Central Park.

Bradford Northern: Watson; Hall, D Powell, Newlove, Cordle; Summers (Heron, 40), Fox; R Powell, Clark, Greenwood (Hamer, 56), Dixon, Medley, Fairbank.

Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Bell, Panapa (Betts, 66), Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Hall, Platt (Lydon, 34), Betts (Cassidy, 34), Cowie (Platt, 66), Farrell.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

----------------------------------------------------------------- STONES BITTER TOP THREE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Bradford. . . . . 27 21 0 6 700 488 42 Warrington. . . . 28 21 0 7 571 396 42 Wigan. . . . . . 27 20 0 7 668 371 40 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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