Rating each side’s Super League experience: Bradford Bulls

Bradford Bulls were one of the big hitters in the Super League era, but their story would come to a tragic end.

The Bulls, then known as Bradford Northern, were one of the founder members of the Super League after finishing seventh in the final Championship season.

Straight away, they made themselves known as a success story. They went from seventh to third in the first Super League season.

They also made it to the final of the Challenge Cup, but they were beaten 40-32 against St Helens. The Bulls also went into the Premiership Trophy, but lost 42-36 against Wigan.

1997 saw a coaching change, as Matthew Elliott came in to replace Brian Smith at the helm. That change would pay immediate dividends.

Almost Perfection

The Bulls won their first title since 1981, after finishing seven points clear of  London Broncos in second place. They did it after winning their first 20 matches of the season.

Bradford were just two games short of completing a perfect season, but lost their last two matches 33-18 against Wigan , and 28-24 against London.

They also reached the Challenge Cup Final again, but came unstuck against St Helens once more, losing 32-22 at Wembley.

Bradford’s season then ended after a 25-12 defeat against Castleford Tigers in the Premiership Trophy.

The Super League then moved into a new era, as the playoffs would decide the champions, not who finished top.

Bradford finished fifth in that first season, and entered the playoffs, but they were beaten 46-24 against the Saints at Knowsley Road.

A year later, Bradford claimed the new League Leaders Shield, finishing top for the second time in two seasons.

Then, the Bulls made it to Old Trafford for the first time in the Super League era, where they would face

Just two weeks before, they thrashed Saints 40-4 at Odsal to book their place at Old Trafford. Two tries from Henry Paul, and others from Stuart Fielden, Scott Naylor, Tevita Vaikona and Michael Withers sealed victory for them.

But once again, Saints got the better of them on the big stage, winning 8-6. However, Bradford felt hard done to, after Leon Pryce had a try disallowed for a knock on by Withers as he intercepted a pass. Debate has raged on for years about whether or not Withers got the slightest of touches.

Challenge Cup Triumph

The Bulls moved into the new Millennium and claimed their first silverware, as they won their first Challenge Cup title since 1949, after a 24-18 win over Leeds Rhinos in Edinburgh.

Two tries from Withers, and other from Fielden and Nathan McAvoy sealed the historic victory for Bradford.

However, the Super League season ended disappointingly as they were beaten one game away from Old Trafford. They lost 40-12 against Wigan.

That proved to be Elliott’s last match in charge, Brian Noble stepped up to replace him ahead of the 2001 season.

Success under Noble

Brian Noble led Bradford during their most successful years between 2001 and 2006. Credit: Stephen Gaunt/ News Images

Just like in Elliott’s first season, Bradford won the league in Noble’s first season in charge. They also won the League Leaders Shield on points difference from Wigan.

They beat Wigan at Old Trafford 37-6, in what remains the largest winning margin in the Grand Final. A hat-trick from Withers, and other efforts from Fielden, James Lowes and Graham Mackay won the game for Bradford.

It was almost a treble, but they were beaten by St Helens 13-6 at Twickenham in the Challenge Cup Final.

2002 saw Bradford involved in one of the closest title races in the history of the Super League. They lost the League Leaders Shield on points difference this time to the Saints, who then beat Bradford 19-18 at Old Trafford to lift the Super League title.

However, that wasn’t the end of the story, just after Sean Long kicked the winning drop goal, Chris Joynt seemed to take a voluntary tackle, which went unpunished by the referee, captain Lowes furious at full time.

History makers

Robbie Paul helped Bradford to four Super League titles between 1997 and 2005. Credit: David Greaves/ News Images

They put any disappointment they were feeling that year behind them, as they became the first Super League side to claim the treble.

The first trophy came after a 22-20 win against Leeds at the Millennium Stadium to win the Challenge Cup. Tries from Robbie Paul, Jamie Peacock, and Vaikona sealed that win for Bradford.

They then won the League Leaders Shield, as the Bulls finished three points clear of the Rhinos at the end of the regular season.

Bradford then made it to Old Trafford, where they faced Wigan hoping to make history. They achieved it with a 25-12 victory, thanks to tries from Shontayne Hape, Lowes and Stuart Reardon.

2004 saw Bradford fall behind Leeds in the race for the League Leaders Shield, with the Rhinos three points clear at the end of the regular season.

Despite this, Bradford went on to claim an impressive 26-12 win at Headingley against the Rhinos. Two tries from Hape, and others from Paul, Lee Radford, and Lesley Vainikolo earned victory.

However, Leeds would get their revenge at Old Trafford, claiming a 16-8 win.

12 months later, Bradford earned their Super League title back from their West Yorkshire rivals Leeds after a 15-6 win at Old Trafford.

Tries from Pryce and Vainikolo sealed the game. It would prove to be the last games for Pryce and Jamie Peacock in a Bradford shirt. Pryce joined St Helens, while Peacock joined Leeds.4

Starting to struggle

Steve McNamara became the youngest Head Coach in the Super League when he took the Bradford job in 2006. Credit: News Images

The Bulls dropped to fourth in 2006, a drop made worse by a two point deduction for a salary cap breach. Noble left the club after 11 games to take the Wigan job, meaning former Bulls forward Steve McNamara took the job.

McNamara guided Bradford to the playoffs, but they were beaten 19-12 one game from Old Trafford by Hull FC.

Bradford recovered in 2007, and were back up to third, and were just three points behind League Leaders St Helens at the end of the regular season.

They also made it to the Challenge Cup Semi-Finals, but were beaten 35-14 by St Helens.

Bradford were on the edge of an impressive playoff win against Wigan at Odsal. A hat-trick from David Solomona,  and other efforts from Iestyn Harris and Tame Tupou had the Bulls 30-6 up, but they went on to lose 31-30.

2008 ended up being very similar for the Bulls. They finished fifth, and were beaten 30-14 by Wigan.

A year later, Bradford’s fall was there to see, as they fell outside of the playoff places for the first time in the Super League era.

A run of six defeats in seven games proved too difficult to overcome for the Bulls. They gave it a good go, and won their last five matches, but were still a point short of Castleford.

It looked like they had recovered in 2010, as they were fourth after 14 rounds. But lost their next 11 matches, to slip down to 11th.

They ended on a good note, following a 38-28 win over Wakefield Trinity at Odsal. Two tries from Wayne Godwin and others from Brett Kearney, Andy Lynch, Steve Menzies and Elliott Whitehead sealed the win for Bradford.

However, they lost their next match against Wigan to finish 10th.

McNamara was also sacked during the season after a 35-18 defeat to Harlequins, with Lee St Hilaire taking temporary charge.

Financial difficulties and administration

Mick Potter then took over ahead of the 2011 season, although fortunes didn’t change, as they missed the playoffs for a third straight season.

2012 saw the club’s financial troubles come to light. They went into administration, and were deducted six points. This would actually cost them a playoff place.

Potter continued to work for Bradford for free, until a new owner was put in in August 2012. Bradford were then allowed to keep their Super League licence for the 2013 season.

They entered the new season with Francis Cummins as Head Coach.

In May, an impressive 28-7 win at Salford, had the Bulls in seventh place. Two tries from Matty Blythe and other efforts from Matt Diskin, Luke Gale and Adrian Purtell won the game for the Bulls.

However, a 42-6 defeat against Huddersfield at Magic Weekend sparked a run of six straight defeats. They won three of their final six matches, but it wasn’t enough to claim a playoff spot.

Relegation and subsequent struggle

James Lowes took the Head Coach’s role at Bradford, and led them to within one game of an immediate Super League return. Credit: Richard Long/ News Images

2014 saw Bradford’s darkest day arrive. They were relegated from the Super League after entering administration for the second time. Cummins was sacked after relegation was confirmed, and former captain James Lowes took over.

In 2015, Bradford came close to an instant return to the Super League, but lost 24-16 against Wakefield Trinity in the Million Pound Game.

Since then, they entered administration for the third time in 2016, and were liquidated at the start of 2017.

The Bulls started again in League One, and achieved promotion at the first attempt.

They have also moved away from Odsal, with the club no longer being able to maintain it. The Bulls have since moved to Dewsbury.

The Future

John Kear is currently the man tasked with taking Bradford forwards. Credit: Richard Long/ News Images

It’s difficult to predict what the future will hold at Bradford, given their precarious financial situation over the last few years.

However, they were competitive in their first season back in the Championship. They were in the playoff race, but couldn’t quite go the distance.

In John Kear, they have one of the most experienced coaches in the modern game, and he could certainly lead Bradford back up to the big time, once their squad becomes more settled.

Rating

7/10- it would be higher, especially after their early exploits, and its really sad what happened to them after 2005.

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