Bradford ended a disappointing season of under-achievement with a 27-16 victory over another troubled club, Sheffield Eagles, in yesterday’s Championship Shield final at Odsal.
The Shield is the British game’s booby prize, competed for by teams finishing from fifth to 12th in the second tier.
Bradford’s previous trophy success was the 2006 World Club Challenge, but little has gone right for them since and even being involved in the Shield was embarrassing for what was once the powerhouse of the British game.
The biggest fixture of Bradford’s season was their league visit to Featherstone Rovers two months ago, which was a decider for fourth spot in the Championship and the final place in the Qualifiers.
A 20-0 defeat that afternoon, which condemned them to another season outside the top-flight, was a shattering blow and yesterday’s victory was scant consolation.
Even so, coach Rohan Smith insisted he was pleased to have finished the year on a positive note and praised the attitude of his players following the defeat at Featherstone.
“It’s good to reward the loyal fans who’ve been turning out over the last couple of months,” he said.
“I thought it was pretty gritty at times. We lost Ben Kavanagh with an eye injury and then Adam Sidlow tore his calf.
“We played without front-rowers for large parts of that game. We dug deep and I thought we defended quite well in the second half when we were under a little bit of pressure and not attacking as well as we can.”
Sheffield, who had been beaten 80-0 on the same ground two weeks earlier, were also glad to see the end of a traumatic 2016.
After going full-time in pre-season, the club, ran into financial problems and the playing squad were told they are free to look for new clubs. They did their best to put themselves in the shop window, the South Yorkshire club hitting back from 18-0 down to trail by only six points at the interval and dominating much of the second half.
Adam O’Brien was the outstanding player for Bradford, whose players are understood to have not been paid on time last month.
He scored the opening try after just 22 seconds and added a second after departing captain Adrian Purtell had touched down.
Lewis Charnock converted all three, but Menzie Yere and Rob Worrincy hit back in the second quarter for Sheffield and two goals by Cory Aston made it 18-12 at half-time.
Aston cut the deficit to just two points with a brace of penalty goals early in the second half, but Sheffield could not find a way through some resolute Bradford defence and two tries in the final 10 minutes sealed the hosts’ win.
O’Brien’s return after a spell on the bench was the catalyst, but Kris Welham scored both of them, taking his tally for the season to 30, either side of a well-taken drop goal by Dane Chisholm.
According to Bradford’s chairman Marc Green, the win was worth an extra £50,000 in central funding, plus prize money of £10,000.
Yesterday was Ian Swire’s final game as Sheffield’s chairman. Coach Mark Aston admitted to being drained at the end of a tortuous campaign, but declared himself “immensely proud” of his team’s effort.
He said: “We’ve had some issues off the field and a couple of weeks ago we came here and got taught a few lessons.
“That didn’t surprise me because of the news the players received that week.
“Their minds had gone, so to put in the performance they did today is a credit to them,” he added.
Bradford Bulls: Moss, Williams, Mellor, Welham, Purtell, Chisholm, Charnock, Sidlow, O’Brien, Kavanagh, Haggerty, Addy, Pitts. Substitutes: Oakes, Olbison, Ferguson, Clark.
Sheffield Eagles: Laulu-Togagae, Lo, Yere, Tyson, Worrincy, Aston, Jacks, Wheeldon, Carlile, Neal, James, Straugheir, Minchella. Substitutes: Fozard, Thorpe, Margalet, Mexico.
Referee: J Smith (Warrington).