Grand Final memories: When Mick Withers and Bradford Bulls blew away Wigan Warriors
Ahead of the 2001 Super League Grand Final, the West Yorkshire club had positioned themselves as the most consistent team of the summer era but largely failed to get the silverware to show it.
They had been in five major finals – including the 1999 Old Trafford affair – but won just once, lifting the Challenge Cup at Murrayfield in 2000.
Three Cup final defeats, all against St Helens and including one earlier in the 2001 season, left many wondering if Bullmania really was just a lot of hype.
Nevertheless, they certainly proved that wrong with a performance that 20 years on still remains the most dominant in Grand Final history.
Brutal Bradford, with Australian full-back Mick Withers scoring a hat-trick, vanquished Wigan Warriors 37-6 with a stunning display of rugby league in Manchester.
Withers had been on the losing side against St Helens two years earlier, his debut campaign at Odsal having arrived from Balmain Tigers, but he helped rid that painful memory by scoring his treble within just 20 minutes.
Ruthless Bulls were 26-0 ahead just after the half-hour mark and stunned Wigan, littered with international stars such as Andy Farrell, Matty Johns, Adrian Lam and Steve Renouf, were visibly shocked by both the power and panache of their rivals.
Indeed, Stuart Raper’s side did look like they might even get nilled for the first time in the summer era until Lam – the Papua New Guinea scrum-half who has just finished a three-year stint in charge of the Cherry and Whites – got them a consolation in the 63rd minute.
Still, it was only a brief respite as Stuart Fielden, the youngest of Bradford’s famous awesome foursome props alongside Joe Vagana, Brian McDermott and Paul Anderson, and Australian veteraan Graham Mackay added further tries.
Kiwi stand-off Henry Paul, playing alongside brother Robbie for the final time, then fittingly slotted a drop goal in his last match before his cross-code switch to Gloucester.
He glided through that game and, along with the controlling hooker James Lowes, was pivotal although, of course, Withers claimed the Harry Sunderland Award as man-of-the-match.
It was the first time anyone had scored a hat-trick in a Super League Grand Final and the likeable Aussie, who scored 109 tries in 177 games for the club, remains the only player to have done so in the concept’s 23 year history.
Furthermore, that 2001 scoreline remains the biggest winning margin in any of the finals thus far and, given how closely-matched Catalans Dragons and Saints are, it is highly unlikely that record will be broken when the 2021 Grand Final takes place on Saturday.
Bulls coach Brian Noble would lead his side to each of the next four Grand Finals winning two.