One of the most exciting Super League Grand Finals also turned out to be the most controversial.
Bradford and St Helens met at Old Trafford for the 2002 final. Bradford had previously defeated St Helens at Knowsley Road to send the Bulls to Old Trafford. The Bulls won 28-26 in a narrow game that was played in poor weather conditions.
Saints went onto face Wigan in the final eliminator, but Ian Millward’s men were too strong for the Warriors. They ran out 24-8 winners to reach their third Grand Final in four years.
The final itself was a heart stopper.
Tommy Martyn was injured for Saints, while Paul Newlove just managed to pass a late fitness test. Paul Wellens fractured a check bone after a collision with Brandon Costin in the opening moments, his Grand Final over.
Bradford started strongly and got on the score board within the first three minutes. Michael Withers’ inside ball to Scott Naylor was enough for him to touch down, bringing a sense of déjà vu as Bradford had demolished Wigan in similar fashion 12 months earlier.
Paul Deacon thought he had scored after receiving another Withers offload. But an earlier knock on from Jamie Peacock denied the baby-faced assassin. However his penalty on 21 minutes gave the Bulls an eight point lead and this seemed to encourage a Saints fight back.
Mike Bennett finished off a typical ‘never-say-die’ Saints try, and Saints later hit the lead with Sean Long after Martin Gleeson’s tackle on Constin knocked the ball free. Keiron Cunningham reacted first and made the break before passing to Long in support.
Bradford started the second half like they started the first with a try from Robbie Paul and Withers for an 18-12 lead.
Saints applied the pressure on Bradford’s try line and Gleeson touched down in the corner. Long then converted a penalty in front of the posts to level the scores.
Long, Deacon and Paul Sculthorpe all had missed attempts at a drop goal before the game reached its controversial finale.
Extra time looked certain to decide this thriller, but Saints had one last chance to snatch the game.
Anthony Stewart made a huge break and in one set Saints had gone the length of the field. Newlove eventually made one final drive, before the ball was passed back to Long who slotted the drop goal with 51 seconds to space. Saints led 19-18.
However the drama wasn’t over. In one of the most controversial acts seen in the Super League era, Chris Joynt picked up the ball from dummy half and suddenly fell to the feet of Deacon and Lee Gilmour within kicking distance of the Saints’ goal post.
As Bradford screamed “voluntary tackle!” Joynt suddenly got to his feet before the hooter sounded to end the game.
Despite Saints having won the match, James Lowes protested against referee Russell Smith long after the celebrations had begun.