|INTRO | REVIEW BY SPORT | GALLERY | QUIZ | VOTE | LEGENDS REMEMBERED | 2001 CALENDAR|
By BBC Sport's Dave Woods
Australia may be the world champions and St Helens the Superleague champions, but it's the broken hearts of Bradford that will be best remembered from the year just past.
Imagine the scene: The clock on the big screen shows less than 10 seconds remaining. You are in the lead and the ball is deep in your opponents' half. Your fans are already beginning to celebrate a famous victory.
Then suddenly the whole stadium seems to take a deep breath. In a blur of passes and a thunder of boots and amidst screams of excitement, your opponents have scored a bewildering try to win them the match.
That happened not once, but twice to the Bradford Bulls as they lived through The Nightmare of the 80th Minute Part I and Part II. They were the two most thrilling matches of Superleague Five or indeed any season before.
But first to happier times for the West Yorkshire side.
Bradford were the winners of the year's first silverware, the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.
The final was played in Edinburgh for the first time in the competitions 100-year-plus history, but it was almost a wash-out.
Torrential rain and a burst riverbank left the Murrayfield pitch under four feet of water just two days before the game. But the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and officials from the rugby league and rugby union ensured the game went ahead.
It wasn't the most memorable final. Bradford took early control of the game, but then wobbled a little. Leeds half-threatened an unlikely comeback, but the Bulls held on to win the cup for the first time in a half a century.
Prior to the final, Leeds had been the Superleague's under-achievers with their worst start to a season in their history. But the confidence reaped from reaching the Challenge Cup showpiece helped them recover and finally claim a place in the top five by the season's end.
Ultimately Warrington would claim the prize of underachievers. Despite signing superstars Allan Langer, Andrew Gee and Tawera Nikau in the previous winter, they never really threatened to make the play-offs.
Throughout the league season it was the battles of the big three that produced the most thrilling and unpredictable theatre. Whenever Wigan, Bradford and St Helens met, a game of true quality and drama was always guaranteed.
St Helens poved themselves the best of the three, being crowned champions for a second year running by beating league leaders Wigan in front of a record-breaking crowd at Old Trafford. The Grand Final was a suitable finale to the domestic season, producing one of the finest matches of the year.
But now to Bradford's nightmares.
One benefit of having the big screen at grounds is that fans can see exactly how long is left to play in a game. And so it was that against Wigan at the JJB and at St Helens a few weeks later, the Bulls went into the last 10 seconds of each game winning and knowing one more tackle, one last effort would earn them vital victories.
First to Wigan. A defeat for Bradford would mean the end of their hopes of finishing as league leaders. Yet with 10 seconds left they led by five points and Wigan had the ball close to their own try line.
"10 - 9 - 8... " began the countdown of the Bulls fans already celebrating. But their cries were drowned out by unbelieving Wigan roars as Steve Renouf, the Wigan centre, swerved past a couple of defenders and 80 yards from glory began to run clear.
He was never quick enough to go all the
way, but with masterful centre play he hung on and hung on, before finally
passing for Kris Radlinski to dive in. It was left to Andy Farrell to kick
the goal that sent Wigan fans into a euphoric state that lasted days.