Tipping the Scales and setting up a dominant period in the game for Bulls

AFTER the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-finals were concluded this weekend following Hull FC's epic win over Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves' far more routine success against vanquished Wakefield Trinity, it is a fitting time to look back at a classic last-four meeting of yesteryear.

Rugby union convert, winger Jon Scales, touches down for the first of his hat-trick of tries for Bradford Bulls against former club Leeds in the 1996 Challenge Cup semi-final at Huddersfield (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Bradford Bulls fans, who have endured a difficult week, will remember fondly their club’s escapades in one such game 20 years ago when they defeated arch-rivals Leeds to reach Wembley.

Everyone, of course, will remember what then happened in the showpiece, Bradford succumbing to St Helens despite leading 26-12 just before the hour-mark, Bobbie Goulding’s kicks raining down on Nathan Graham to cause carnage and render futile a first Challenge Cup final hat-trick for Bulls’ Robbie Paul.

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However, it was certainly the start of something special for the West Yorkshire club with the last-four win at Huddersfield perhaps the first sign that the Bulls would become a force to be reckoned with over the next decade.

In 1996, the hero of their semi-final was Jon Scales, a tall, powerful winger, who had initially played union with Newcastle Gosforth before switching codes to join home-town Leeds in 1993.

It is fair to say he struggled to make an impact at Headingley, but after switching to Odsal two years later began to find his feet in the 13-man game.

He truly came of age in this semi-final, scoring a hat-trick of tries to send Brian Smith’s Bradford to the Twin Towers where he would also cross in that classic, if ultimately disappointing, showpiece.

In the Bradford side at Huddersfield that afternoon, which blitzed their rivals with a performance so rich in power, pace and panache, there were the likes of gnarled veterans such as Karl Fairbank and Paul Medley up front alongside current Leeds coach Brian McDermott.

Behind was 20-year-old captain Robbie Paul alongside half-back partner Graeme Bradley – the Australian stand-off who proved such a hit at Odsal.

But it was the work of another Aussie – second-row Jeremy Donougher – and his partnership down the left with Great Britain centre Paul Loughlin that proved so critical to their success.

They created panic in the Leeds defence and were too strong and skilful, furnishing Scales with two tries in the opening 10 minutes.

The first came via a short blindside pass from former St Helens star Loughlin on the last tackle and they ran on the sixth again, this time through Paul, for Donougher’s overhead pass to find the centre, Scales finishing off once more.

When Matt Calland brushed aside Kiwi centre Kevin Iro and Mike Forshaw, the mighty Bulls were 16-0 up inside 13 minutes.

Scales romped in from 50m for his treble early in the second period after Iro spilled and Donougher and Loughlin quickly moved the ball to their wideman, who rarely enjoyed a better performance, tormenting Jim Fallon, Simon Knox’s try confirming the win.