Wigan's brave soldiers denied at the final
Gutted but proud. - That's how coach
Mike Gregory saw Saturdays Grand Final defeat and I can't argue with that.
Wigan ended the season in tears after losing the 2003
Grand Final to Bradford at Old Trafford but they should take heart from what has
been a tremendous season.
We have achieved an awful lot during our 36 match
campaign this year and that shouldn't be forgotten.
Who'd have thought we'd have reached the Grand Final
after winning just two of our first five Super League matches?
Who'd have thought we'd beat St Helens four times out of
This has been a great season. We have witnessed the young
kids that started the season progress into men! You just have to remember that
the vast majority of the side hasn't reach their peak yet!
The bottom line is I can't really look at a player that
turned out in the final and say that they played badly! Bradford were
just the better team on the day and their extra week's rest showed in the end.
The first ten minutes saw both sides looking to maintain possession and not
give anything away. But as the half went on it was Wigan who looked the more
capable of scoring.
David Hodgson made the first break of the game but a fantastic tackle from
Bulls full back Stuart Reardon denied him the opening score.
Soon after James Lowes was penalised for a high tackle on Brian Carney but
Andy Farrell's kick hit the post and bounced back into play.
That miss was soon forgotten when Terry Newton and Sean
O'Loughlin combined to send Danny Tickle racing to the line, beating three men
in the process. Farrell converted to open up a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes and the
Wigan hoards were in raptures!
After that though Bradford came into the game with the
help of captain Robbie Paul, fresh off the bench after four months out
We began to suffer at the hands of the referee and two
penalties from Paul Deacon reduced the deficit at half time to 6-4. In between
the two penalties the video referee was called in use when Lesley Vainikolo
challenged Carney for a high ball in the corner. But Vianikolo was judged to
have knocked on.
You could see the signs of tiredness in Wigan as the first half drew to a
close and that continue after the break as it wasn't long before the scores were
level. Luke Robinson was penalised for tackling Daniel Gartner before he had
recieved the football and Deacon kicked his third penalty to tie the scores
Then, from a Warriors perspective, came the key incident
of the match. Leon Pryce cleaned out Brian Carney, ending his participation in
the game with thirty minutes to go.
Unbelievably Pryce was not penalised for the shot which
left Carney suffering from concussion. Theirs no doubt in my mind that the Bulls
intended to take Carney out because they knew he has the ability to win a match
all by himself, as he proved a Leeds the week previous. First Lowes, then Pryce
hit him with high shots and neither got punished in the form of a yellow or red
card. Referee Karl Kirkpatricks decision not to penalise Pryce at all just
Soon after that the Bulls took control of the game with
two quick tries in succession.
First a good offload from Joe Vagana allowed Stuart
Reardon to beat some tired Warriors tackling and give Bradford the lead for the
first time. It was a superb try that took some scoring.
Then Deacon sent centre Shontayne Hape through a gap and
in a seven minute spell the Bulls had built up a two try lead with twenty
minutes to go.
Bradford began to see the game out and a drop goal from
Deacon with just 10 minutes left looked to be the final nail in the
But after looking down and out since the first twenty
minutes, all of a sudden a 40 metre break from Martin Aspinwall was rounded off
by Kris Radlinski. There may have only been eight minutes left but that moment
of magic gave us hope despite the 19-12 scoreline.
But that hope was soon dashed as Tickle knocked on from
With Stuart Fielden held up on the fourth tackle, Lowes did his trademark run
from dummy half, scoring from close range and winning the match.
Wigan didn't give up and almost scored again but Dave Hodgson had a foot in
touch according to the video referee Steve Cross. It was too late anyway. The
game had already been lost and the Bulls completed a unique modern day
achievement of winning the Challenge Cup and Super League in the same season.
After the match Mike Gregory felt down but proud.
He said: "I think we missed the experience of Adrian Lam but I am proud of
what Luke Robinson has achieved.
"Sean O'Loughlin is also only a baby and this team can go on over the next
"We have started something and these lads now know what it is like to
reach a final.
"I am feeling proud of what we have achieved but obviously I am feeling
"Bradford were bigger and stronger in the collision and it took a lot out
"When they get on a roll they are hard to stop."
Bulls coach Brian Noble said: "Wigan were great and for the first 15
minutes we were like rabbits caught in the headlights.
"But we showed the character to find a way to win this game - we showed
that the team spirit here is intact."