Saints sense salvation

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The Independent Online
It might be too late for the Bradford Bulls to put themselves in a position to win the first Stones Super League championship, but they have already injected a high degree of drama into the latter stages of the competition.

Bradford's victories, first over St Helens and then, on Friday, over a bemused Wigan, have made for a compelling storyline. First they knocked Saints off the top, then they proved wrong Shaun McRae, who said that Bradford could not do it twice in a week. The Saints coach now has the chance to take his team back into first place when they play Halifax this evening.

In theory, the Bulls could win the title themselves, although that would depend on Wigan losing twice more, something that the realistic Bradford coach, Brian Smith, does not expect to happen. "We have proved that we can get up for the big matches," Smith said. "The difference is that a side like Wigan can do it week after week."

For the record, Smith still expects Wigan to end the campaign as champions, but now at least St Helens have their destiny is back in their own hands.

Today's fixture against the away specialists Halifax is by no means easy, but McRae's men know that Bradford's remarkable display on Friday has given them a golden chance to get back in in the hunt. That evening at Odsal was a taste of what Super League and summer rugby were supposed to be about.

Few ever imagined seeing a 17,000 crowd again at a ground that has so often been bleak and virtually deserted during the winter, but they were desperate to get in on Friday - another indication that people can be persuaded to give the concept a try if it is presented with the verve that Bradford have brought to the whole business.

"Super League . . . what a flop!" shouted the man from Sky ironically, in triumphalist mood. One could see his point, but it would be a better point if there were more than one Bradford.

As for Wigan, it is, as ever, too early to write them off, but the cracks that have been visible all season are starting to weaken their formidable structure. A couple of injuries now bring into action good young players who are not, in all honesty, ever going to be genuine Wigan first-team players.

Giving those kids a chance, as their chairman, Jack Robinson, continually puts it, is shorthand for having little choice. Wigan's finances are such that they might have to countenance a couple of years as a competitive rather than a dominant side, and that process may already have begun.

Harsh fiscal reality - and the Bulls - have hauled them back to the pack.