Friday, 25 July 2014

Warriors March On To Bulls

After a superb win over Hull last Friday at the DW Stadium, Wigan are back on their travels this Sunday with a trip up to face Bradford for a match that some will see as a simple Super League game but for others it will be the end of an era.

Although I have followed Wigan and Super League in general for over 15 years, this Sunday will be my first visit to Bradford and the Provident Stadium or Odsal as it is commonly known and I hope it will be a great first impression in more ways than one.

The sheer mention of Bradford v Wigan evokes memories of the Grand final meetings between the sides in the early 2000's when the Bulls defeated the Warriors 37-6 (2001) and 25-12 (2003) in two of their eventual three Super League Grand Final titles with the third two years later against St Helens.

Bradford's third and most recent Grand Final win came just one year before Wigan came achingly close to relegation from Super League in 2006 amid some controversial circumstances that till sparks debates to this very day but the feelings of that season are still deep in the minds of Wigan fans who since have enjoyed better times.

The facts themselves show that in recent years Bradford have slipped down the table while Wigan have risen up and currently occupy the title of Super League champions and would be a good bet to repeat such a feat this season.

Bradford's demise of course has to fall on the torrid financial dealings which have seen them fall into administration twice, the first back in 2012 and of course the second earlier this season. The 2012 issue is one that I remember well as their visit to the DW Stadium coincided with Wigan's annual Heritage Day celebration and came in the same week that Bradford were threatened with liquidation.

That game saw Bradford defy the odds in stunning a Wigan side who would go on to be League Leaders with a 30-22 victory and a win that saw all four sides of the stadium applaud the triumphant Bulls.

The adjacent video was one of my first as a Wigan spectator but one I always think of when Bradford and Wigan face each other as it is a brilliant example of triumph over adversity.

Of course, Sunday's game is unlikely to have the same atmosphere as it will be Bradford's first game since their relegation from Super League was officially confirmed after a defeat at Huddersfield and despite the traditional positivity from the Bulls fans there will be a feeling of dismay.

The reverse meeting between the sides was a strange one earlier this season as Wigan strolled to an 84-6 win on Easter Monday and for the Bulls it was even more hard-hitting as the Wigan line-up was a youthful one and the win was a big sign that this season was unlikely to have a happy ending for the Bulls.

As a Wigan fan, a huge win on Sunday would be brilliant for the potential retaining of the Super League title but a demolition of Bradford would not feel right given the history between the sides and at Odsal itself where the memories of the 31-30 comeback in the play-offs in 2007 registered as the best comeback in Super League history until recently.

Some views this week mentioned that it is their last trip to Bradford and though it has a truth in terms of the season, I believe that it will be a hiatus as Bradford will bounce back be it at the first attempt in 2016 or after a bed-in period in the Championship resulting in a return in 2017.

Personally, a meeting in next season's revamped Challenge Cup would be one that would surely be a tie of the round especially at Bradford as it would be a brilliant way to renew the rivalry between the sides that excited the Super League as a whole in the early 2000's but if not any future tie between the sides would be one I would be glad to grace regardless of the eventual result.

History aside, Sunday is where the focus is and Wigan make the trip in good form which has seen them stay in the fight for top spot and the League Leaders Shield while Bradford will be eager to gain some revenge for the Easter humiliation and avoid finishing bottom of the Super League.

Wigan welcome back Matt Bowen and Darrell Goulding in place of Lewis Tierney and Anthony Gelling while Jamie Doran joins the travelling party in favour of Greg Burke while Bradford include Jordan Baldwinson, Elliot Kear and Danny Williams with Adrian Purtell, Luke George and Chev Walker missing out.

Bradford- Danny Addy, Joe Arundel, Jordan Baldwinson, Matty Blythe, James Donaldson, Jamal Fakir, Jamie Foster, Luke Gale, Lee Gaskell, Adam Henry, Elliot Kear, Brett Kearney, Manase Manuokafoa, Alex Mellor, Adam O'Brien, Tom Olbison, Jay Pitts, Adam Sidlow, Danny Williams.

Wigan-John Bateman, Matt Bowen, Josh Charnley, Tony Clubb, Dom Crosby, Jamie Doran, Liam Farrell, Ben Flower, Darrell Goulding, Jack Hughes, Jordan James, Dom Manfredi, Sean O'Loughlin, Sam Powell, Dan Sarginson, Matty Smith, Ryan Sutton, Scott Taylor, George Williams.

The full preview saw a prediction of Bradford 12 Wigan 50 and after the squad announcements, I have chosen to amend the prediction to Bradford 16 Wigan 52 given the strength of the attacks for both sides.