1997 Sheffield v Bradford

Published in Thirteen in 2005

by Rob Shaw

Do you remember the season ….
Which started with a hat trick from Robbie?
When we had a winger who would do back-flips?
When Danny Peacock would burst onto the ball at pace?
When beating Leeds was a mere formality?
When attendance records were annihilated?
When Bradford made back-to-back visits to Wembley?
When Robbie wore Golden boots?
When Bradford’s fixtures included French, Australian and New Zealand teams?
When Bradford went on a 20-match unbeaten rampage?
When Wittenberg would smash the opposition?
When Saints, Wigan and even London finished above the Rhinos?
When a Bradford prop was chaired off the pitch by the fans?
When 17,000 crammed into Odsal for the visit of Paris?
When Bradford lifted their first Championship for 16 years?
When to be a Bradford fan was the best feeling ever?
Do you remember 1997?


Stones Super League
16th August 1997

It was a hot summer’s day when the expectant mass of Bradford fans took to the road. With the Odsal trophy cabinet bare, the opportunity to see the first title for 16 years was too good to be missed by Bradford’s new army of colourful fans.

The Don Valley Stadium, so often an empty white elephant, came alive for the evening like never before with the modern architecture the perfect backdrop for the revitalised Bradford rugby machine. The record crowd of almost 11,000 witnessed a tense but exciting match played in perfect conditions that epitomised the modern era.

They faced an Eagles team who eight months later would win the Challenge Cup. Waisale Sovatabua had been the star of Fiji’s 1995 World Cup campaign, Nick Pinkney had represented England in the same competition and Whetu Taewa, Paul Broadbent, and Keith Senior also had international experience. They would be no easy beats.

It looked like Sheffield might play to the script though, allowing centre Danny Peacock over in the 17th minute from Steve McNamara’s pass.

Peacock’s seventh try of the season was never going to be enough though, and a tense first half ended with Sheffield going into the break with a 10-4 advantage after tries to Whetu Taewa and Danny McAllister.

Shortly after the break Bradford clawed back the score with James Lowes at dummy half feigning the long pass and popping up a short ball for Dwyer to run onto. Dwyer went under the sticks unopposed. 10-10. It was never likely to stay at that score but a draw would have been enough to secure the title. An exchange of penalties made it 12-12, before McNamara finally put Bradford back into the lead with his third goal of the night.

Bradford’s props created the next try between them with McDermott managing to reach all the way to the floor, never an easy task for Macca, to fire the pass out to Wittenberg from dummy half. Wittenberg fended off some feeble Eagles defence to power over for a great prop-forward’s try.

The break of the game came from Peacock, who, in typical fashion, ran on to Robbie Paul’s short pass to burst 70 yards up-field. Sovatabua delayed the inevitable with an excellent try-saving tackle only for Tomlinson to send Lowes over the try line on the next play.

With the game and the title now secure, Bradford registered one more try in the corner after Tomlinson put the bomb up with Forshaw scoring and beginning the celebrations from Sheffield to Bradford.

The fans counted the clock down to the biggest night in the club’s history for 50 years. The spontaneous pitch invasion, the likes of which will never be seen again, completed the spectacle and marked the beginning of a glittering period of the club’s history.

SHEFFIELD EAGLES: Waisale Sovatabua; Nick Pinkney, Willie Morganson, Whetu Taewa, Matt Crowther; David Mycoe, Mark Aston; Paul Broadbent, Marcus Vassilakopolous, Alex Thompson, Keith Senior, Danny McAllister, Rod Doyle. Subs: Jean-Marc Garcia, Dale Laughton, Ricky Wright & Jason Erba.

BRADFORD BULLS: Stuart Spruce; Abi Ekoku, Danny Peacock, Paul Loughlin, Jon Scales; Graeme Bradley, Robbie Paul; Brian McDermott, James Lowes, Jeff Wittenburg, Sonny Nickle, Jeremy Donougher, Steve McNamara. Subs: Glen Tomlinson, Mike Forshaw, Bernard Dwyer & Tahi Reihana.

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