Bradford Bulls 16, Wigan Warriors 8
WHAT a way for Jimmy Lowes to celebrate his first victory as Bulls head coach.
Lowes' men not only beat last season's double winners in what marked a major upset, they did it in style.
Super League status was finally relinquished last week after a truly disastrous campaign, but this was Bradford's day.
The sun was shining, the script was written, the stage was theirs.
Lowes has often spoken since taking charge of the mental fatigue which has affected his players during a year in which the club entered administration and were docked six points.
But the self-belief which has evaded this group of men for much of the year seems to be slowly returning.
Maybe the shackles really are off.
There was an energy about Bradford yesterday, a collective desire on which their victory was founded.
Much credit for that must go to Lowes, who deflected all the plaudits for the performance onto his players.
"I could go through the team and say they all did really well because they were all fantastic today," he reflected.
A club which has been on its knees all season long felt unified again.
There will be a few aching limbs in the Bradford camp this morning and a few bruised egos among the Wigan players.
As Lowes rightly stated, it was a team effort from one to 17.
The home faithful recognised that fact with standing ovations at half-time and again at the final hooter.
It said everything.
As Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan was left with a huge scowl on his face outside the visiting dressing room at the end, Shaun Wane marched into his post-match press conference with a few choice words.
Wane fumed: "I'm angry and disappointed but I must commend Bradford. They were the best team and they fully deserved their win."
That again said much.
It is worth remembering that Wigan had stuffed the Bulls 84-6 on Easter Monday in a club-record defeat for Bradford.
Yesterday's result also marked the first time in the summer era that Wigan had failed to win a Super League game in West Yorkshire.
The Bulls deservedly led 12-4 at the break after steadying themselves and hitting back strongly from an early Wigan try by Dom Manfredi.
Lowes recalled Elliot Kear to the side after three games on the sidelines and also brought back Danny Williams on the wing.
Kear began on the left wing, although he was soon switched to full back after Brett Kearney was forced off during the opening quarter after being knocked out.
Kear enjoyed an outstanding game and it is to be hoped he will stay at Odsal beyond this season.
Luke Gale and Lee Gaskell worked together especially well in the halves but Lowes got 100 per cent commitment from all his players and no little skill, either.
The Bulls went toe to toe with the champions and came out on top.
Bradford twice went close in the opening exchanges through Gaskell and Gale, who were both denied from close range after fine passing sequences.
Three penalties in quick succession aided the home side and, after Williams went close from a Gaskell kick to the right corner, Wigan survived and soon led.
The try came in the ninth minute when an exquisite long pass from full back Matty Bowen found Manfredi lurking with intent on the left wing.
Williams was caught out of position and, although Kearney raced across to cover the on-loan Salford winger, Manfredi was too quick and too strong, finishing well in the left corner.
Matty Smith missed the conversion and the Bulls came back strongly before losing Kearney to concussion following a challenge by Warriors skipper Sean O'Loughlin.
The incident was placed on report by referee Robert Hicks and Kearney departed, ruling him out of Friday's trip to Leeds.
Wigan then forced two goal-line drop-outs in quick succession, through clever kicks from George Williams and then Smith, but moments later replacement Alex Mellor made an exhilarating break from inside his own half.
The teenage back-rower drove at the heart of the Wigan defence and found Gaskell in support. That got the crowd on their feet and suggested that the Warriors might just be there for the taking.
Indeed, moments later Matty Blythe went over in the left corner to finish off another deft handling sequence but he was slightly in touch as he grounded and no try was awarded.
O'Loughlin then knocked on clumsily less than ten metres from the Bulls' try-line and the momentum swung back in favour of the home side.
Their first try came in the 29th minute when a superb array of inter-passing across the face of the Wigan defence culminated in Adam Henry expertly ushering Williams over in the right corner.
Gale added a superb touchline conversion and then six minutes later Lowes' men scored again.
This time it was via an excellent dart from Adam O'Brien, whose delicate pass sent the supporting Joe Arundel crashing under the posts from close range.
Gale's second goal made it 12-4 and an interval advantage that was thoroughly merited. In fact, it was the least the Bulls deserved for their first-half superiority.
Wigan fans could have been forgiven for starting to think this would not be their day, with former Bulls star John Bateman very quiet on his first return to Odsal.
After Bradford coughed up possession in their own half early in the second period, Charnley found himself in acres of space, with a try seeming like a certainty.
But Gaskell produced an incredible tackle that not only denied the score but forced the England international to lose possession too.
Bradford were starting to look like a side hanging on for dear life but that all changed 20 minutes from time.
Another penalty conceded by Wigan – the ninth of their horrendous afternoon – gave the Bulls a chance to strike and they obliged when Blythe finished excellently in the corner after some quick hands from several players.
With time rapidly running out, the Warriors needed a quick response and, six minutes later, all their pressure finally told when Manfredi squeezed in for his second try.
But Smith was unable to add the extras and the Bulls deservedly held on to win for the first time since beating Wakefield on June 1.