A match of incredible swings of mood and fortune was going Bradford's way when they came back on either side of half-time to lead by 14 points.
But it was then that their full-back, Nathan Graham, suffered his seven minutes of torment. Saints were flagging and were only revived by his inexplicable decision to let Bobbie Goulding's kick bounce behind him in the in-goal area.
The assumption that a rugby ball will carry on in the same direction is always a dangerous one and this ball looped back over the full-back's head, hanging in the air long enough for Keiron Cunningham to arrive and pluck it out of his hands. It was the turning- point of an extraordinary contest.
Three minutes later Goulding put up another kick. When Paul Loughlin tried to help him, the two players got in each other's way and Graham lost it again. Simon Booth claimed the touchdown this time.
Another four minutes, another disaster. Goulding's kick again bounced free of Graham's grasp and Alan Hunte's challenge and Ian Pickavance scored the try. Goulding converted to complete the turnaround, which took Saints from a 14-point deficit to a four-point lead.
Saints could do the business from hand to hand as well as via the boot, and some lovely interplay between Danny Arnold and Karl Hammond gave Arnold his second try. With 14 minutes left, it was Saints who seemed assured of victory.
The drama was far from over, however. Paul, Wembley's youngest-ever captain and one who had played magnificently throughout, spotted a gap from 60 yards out and went on a thrilling sprint to the line. It was a marvellous try, all the more memorable for being his third - the first time that has been achieved in a Wembley final and worth a special award of pounds 10,000 to him.
Inevitably, Paul was also confirmed as the winner of the Lance Todd trophy as man of the match, the first from a losing side for 17 years, but he was not happy. "I would have swapped them both for a winner's medal," he said afterwards.
That he would be taking away a loser's medal along with his other awards was not finally decided until six minutes from time, when Goulding, having the last laugh, slipped a reverse pass to Apollo Perelini for the game's 13th try and then landed his fourth goal.
It was a fitting end to a spectacular occasion. With Wigan absent for the first time in nine years and the temperature on the pitch hovering in the mid-90s at kick-off time, it was frantic stuff from the start. It was Bradford who wilted first, Jon Scales failing to take Goulding's kick towards the wing and Arnold knocking it down for Scott Gibbs to pick up and provide the final pass for Steve Prescott.
Goulding's kicking almost produced a quick second try when one came back off the crossbar with Prescott lurking, but the same combination came off again after 13 minutes. It was the result of football rather better than most that was seen at Wembley on Wednesday night, Goulding chipping over the defence and Prescott volleying ahead, getting a second touch over the try-line and diving to score.
Paul was the instigator of Bradford's reply, opening up the left flank with a pass to Loughlin, from which Scales finished the job. Paul Cook's conversion and penalty brought Bradford level before a try brilliantly worked between Paul Newlove and Arnold gave the exciting young winger his first try.
Paul levelled it again before half-time and Cook's conversion gave them the lead. When the former St Helens forward Bernard Dwyer spotted a channel through the defence for one try and Paul darted over for another, Bradford had their potentially match-winning lead.
"I thought Graham had played outstandingly in the first half, but our coach, Shaun McRae, told me to keep at him, because he would crack," Goulding said. When he did, it was a disintegration that took his team's hopes with it.
"He is feeling very disappointed," the Bulls' coach, Brian Smith, said. "But all the players who would like to be at the back to take those balls when people are coming through with baseball bats and hand grenades can form a queue outside my office on Monday morning."
Bradford Bulls: Graham; Cook, Calland, Loughlin, Scales; Bradley, Paul; McDermott, Dwyer, Hamer, Donougher, Nickle, Knox. Substitutes: Medley, Firbank, Hassam, Donohue.
St Helens: Prescott, Arnold, Gibbs, Newlove, Sullivan, Hammond, Goulding, Perelini, Cunningham, Leathem, Joynt, Booth, Northey. Substitutes: Martyn, Hunte, Matautia, Pickavance.
Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).Reuse content