|9th Oct 1999|| Super League Grand Final||NEUTRAL||50717||HT:2-6|
|TRIES || 0 |
|GOALS|| 0 |
|TRIES || 0 |
|GOALS|| 0 |
|Age in brackets is at time of match - Total average age for this team is 26. - ** non-playing sub|
MATCH REPORT : By Ian Laybourn, PA Sport
St Helens came off the ropes to snatch victory from Bradford's grasp in a pulsating JJB Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Saints repeated their 1996 and 1997 Wembley victories over the Yorkshiremen thanks to a tremendous rearguard battle which captivated a 50,717 crowd - the highest for a rugby league match at the Theatre of Dreams.
A superlative show from talisman Henry Paul looked to have inspired the Bulls to victory as they swarmed all over Ellery Hanley's men for an hour.
But they could not shake off gritty Saints, who demonstrated exceptional resolve to remain in contention and secured victory when powerhouse centre Kevin Iro crossed for his side's only try 15 minutes from the end.
The dramatic ending completed a remarkable turnaround for St Helens, the inaugural 1996 Super League champions who had experienced a traumatic 40-4 hammering by the Bulls at Odsal only a fortnight earlier.
For Hanley, who had been suspended in mid-season after an amazing outburst at the club's board of directors, tonight's success capped a memorable first season in charge as he became the first Englishman to coach a championship-winning side since Doug Laughton steered Widnes to glory in 1989.
The outcome was tough on Paul, the classy New Zealand international who had tasted success in all four previous visits to Old Trafford with his former club Wigan and tonight lifted the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man-of-the-match.
A Grand Final winner with Wigan 12 months earlier, the stand-off looked to have put the Bulls on the road to another notable victory with a superb creative display, highlighted with the only try of the first half.
It was a first half packed with drama and incident, both defences stretched to breaking point but able to scramble so effectively that chances were passed up at both ends.
Bradford's gifted winger Leon Pryce received early 18th birthday presents in the shape of a variety of kicks as Saints probed for a weakness in the Bulls defence but the youngster generally proved up to the task.
Full-back Stuart Spruce was another man as cool as the autumn air under pressure and he added an edge to Bradford's attack, twice in the first half cutting a swathe through the heart of the Saints defence with superb counter-attacking play.
The Bulls ought to have made more of his first break, but St Helens stand-off Tommy Martyn got back to make a vital interception as Tevita Vaikona tried to get the last pass to Robbie Paul.
The try came when Henry Paul broke from a scrum well inside his own half and, despite losing a boot at the start of his run, held off a valiant tackle from Sonny Nickle.
As both sides struggled to cope with the wet ball and greasy surface, it was clear that points were going to be at a premium - but Bradford had two further tries disallowed by video referee David Campbell.
Pryce was denied when Michael Withers was ruled to have knocked on in the build-up, and hooker James Lowes was adjudged to have failed to ground the ball over the line.
Hanley, who lost two of his big guns in Paul Newlove and Martyn through injury, had waited until 24 minutes to introduce point-scoring machine Sean Long, and he opened their scoring with a penalty after Bradford were caught offside in front of their own posts.
The goalkicking scrum-half had been able to turn his side's final eliminator against Castleford but he was unable to exert the same influence tonight as Bradford pressed for the try that would surely see off their determined opponents.
Scott Naylor was bundled into touch, and David Boyle also went desperately close to grabbing what would have been the match-winner before Saints launched their late fightback.
It took a desperate last-ditch tackle by substitute Paul Deacon to deny St Helens full-back Paul Atcheson as he went for the corner. But the deadlock was finally broken when a strong burst from Apollo Perelini set up the position for Keiron Cunningham and Long to work the ball out wide, and Atcheson's final pass gave Iro a sight of the line.
That tied the scores and set up the possibility of extra-time - but Long had the final say when he landed the conversion from near touch to break Bradford hearts.
Copyright © Saints Heritage Society 1999-2022