Vainikolo try sparks Bradford's triumph

Bradford Bulls 22 Penrith Panthers 4

Dave Hadfield
Saturday 14 February 2004 01:00

Bradford reclaimed their crown as the best club side in the world with a magnificent performance that made light of small matters like the absence of their half-backs, the departure of their three most experienced forwards and the lack of a goal-kicker.

The Bulls recaptured the World Club Challenge by taking their chances in the first half and defending like men possessed when the Australian champions inevitably came back at them in the second. This was a display which showed how hard they are going to be to beat in domestic competition again this year.

After a high calibre opening few minutes in which both sides showed their quality, it was Bradford who had the first chance when Brett Howland cleared from Lesley Vainikolo after Karl Pratt put through a clever kick.

Craig Gower's high kick at the other end caused problems when Leon Pryce lost it under pressure but it was Bradford who were the more threatening and Michael Withers' instinctive cross field kick would have produced a try if Vainikolo could have hung on to the ball.

Penrith thought they had taken the lead after 15 minutes when Gower, Tony Puletua and Luke Rooney split the Bulls' defence down the left, but Paul Whatuira were shown on the video replay to have made a double movement as he slid over the line in Tevita Vaikona's tackle.

Having survived that, the Bulls took the lead in the 19th minute with Pryce throwing a fast, flat pass to Pratt, whose persistent kicking game near the line this time paid off. Vainikolo beat Rhys Wesser to the high ball and managed to touch down just before the dead ball line, with Lee Radford, kicking for the absent Paul Deacon, missing his attempt at goal.

Bradford were tackling superbly to protect their slender lead and Withers' play at full-back emphasised what a bonus it is to have him back to full fitness once more. Pryce, shining in the stand off role he covets, then produced something special to extend their lead. Selling a little dummy top burst through a gap in the defensive line, he held off Wesser and Rooney to get over the line for a splendid individual try, with Withers this time missing the conversion.

When Pryce's willingness to run at the defence caught Penrith offside, however, Withers did put over a simple penalty to make it a 10-point lead on the half hour.

It got better still for the Bulls five minutes later. Aaron Smith instigated an attack down the left, Pratt launched a kick which Withers did remarkably well to claim, even if his final pass to Logan Swann looked suspiciously forward. The try stood and Withers added another goal.

Bradford edged further ahead through Withers' penalty soon after the break, but Penrith started their fightback with Luke Priddis' touchdown from Preston Campbell kick.

It was a dangerous time for Bradford, but Pryce and Vainikolo typified their resolve in chasing back to stop Whatuira when Penrith threatened a second. Campbell and Puletua were both stopped on the line as the Panthers threw everything at the British champions. Whenever a gap appeared to open there was a Bradford body there to fill it.

With two minutes to play and the job done, Pratt's 40-20 kick took them up-field and the stand in scrum-half provided the pass for Robert Parker to round off an outstanding team effort.

Bradford: Withers; Vaikona, Johnson, Hape, Vainikolo; Pryce, Pratt; Anderson, Smith, Fielden, Radford, Peacock, Swann. Substitutes used: Vagana, Parker, Langley, Reardon.

Penrith: Wesser; Howland, Louis, Whatuira, Rooney; Campbell, Gower, Clinton, Priddis, Lang, Guluvao, Puletua, Waterhouse. Substitutes used: Ross, Rodney, Ward, Swain.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

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