These are very different times for the Bradford Bulls compared to a decade or so ago.
Three times world champions in the early 2000s and a number of Super League and Challenge Cup titles throughout the early years of the switch to summer rugby: there’s no doubting that Bradford were one of the pioneers for Super League around the turn of the century and beyond.
These days, a multitude of financial crises have left the Bulls languishing in the Championship – but back in the day, the Bulls weren’t just good at rugby league, they were good at rugby full stop – and that’s the subject for this week’s Throwback Thursday.
On Friday 16 August 2002 the reigning Super League champions took a real battering from St Helens in a game that would be a dress rehearsal for that year’s Grand Final. How did the Bulls respond? Rest up? Back into training the day after? No; they hopped on a bus to Twickenham and schooled the entire field at rugby union’s Middlesex Sevens.
One of union’s most prestigious exhibition tournaments – which was also won by Wigan in 1996 – the Bulls made a mockery of it, driving to London overnight, turning up and hammering almost everyone they came into contact with.
Bulls coach Brian Noble didn’t even make the trip – the players turned up and got the job done. The likes of Robbie Hunter-Paul, Leon Pryce, Tevita Vaikona and Michael Withers all starred with ball in hand as, at times, Bradford made light work of their union foes.
They started with a victory against fellow Yorkshiremen Leeds Tykes (now Yorkshire Carnegie) in the first round, beating them 24-5 before hammering Gloucester – who had former Bull and brother of Robbie, Henry Paul, in the team – 42-12.
They then faced the heavily-fancied British Army side – scoring a try after little over 30 seconds with their first touch of the ball via Nathan McAvoy, and another 90 seconds later through Tevita Vaikona. That game eventually finished 31-5, so it was onto the final and onto Wasps.
The then-Super League champions turned the final into an exhibition, running in six tries against their union opponents with a brace from Withers plus tries from Vaikona, McAvoy and Jon Feeley rounding off a 42-12 win.
If you haven’t seen it before, the videos of the games against the British Army and Wasps are well worth a watch. It shows just how good the Bulls were on that particular day.
Maybe all teams should try playing in tournaments like these to blow the cobwebs off from a defeat..