Treble winners – Bradford Bulls 

CARDIFF, WALES - APRIL 26: Bradford Bulls players celebrate with the trophy at the end of the Powergen Challenge Cup Final 2003 match between Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos at the Millennium Stadium on April 26, 2003, in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

As part of a series, Last Word on Rugby is looking at the teams which have achieved the treble – winning the Challenge Cup, League Leaders and the Grand Final – in the same season. First up is the Bradford Bulls side of 2003. 

Challenge Cup

Knocked out in the fourth round by rivals Leeds Rhinos the previous year, the Bulls entered the 2003 Challenge Cup with serious designs on winning it. 

They progressed further than 2002 by demolishing Warrington 38-12 in the fourth round before thrashing Hunslet Hawks 82-0 with Lesley Vainikolo grabbing a hat-trick to earn a place in the quarter-finals.

An entertaining match against Widnes saw them come out 38-28 winners and move to within 80 minutes of Wembley. 

The last four pitted the Bradford Bulls against the holders Wigan Warriors who they had already beaten away in the Super League. A double from Lee Radford along with a flawless kicking display from Paul Deacon, who also crossed for a try, gave them a 36-22 victory.

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As in their last victorious Cup triumph three years ago, Bradford would face the Rhinos. 

They led when captain Robbie Paul touched down but Gary Connolly soon crossed as the Rhinos levelled. A Deacon penalty regained the lead for Bradford but Leeds looking to have a half-time lead when Chris McKenna finished impressively in the corner with Kevin Sinfield again converting.

However, Vainikolo won the race to Deacon’s perfectly weighted kick, with Deacon converting for 14-14 at the break.

It seemed as the Bulls would ease to victory when Jamie Peacock got on the scoresheet with Deacon continuing his perfect record by converting then adding a penalty for an eight-point lead. 

David Furner forced his way over by the posts as Leeds were back in the ascendancy but they turned down a kickable penalty as they looked for a match winning try but Bradford held on for a 22-20 win. 

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Super League Title 

As the Bulls were lifting the trophy, they were in the middle of what would be a nine-match winning streak in the Super League as they impressively bounced back from an opening day humbling by St Helens. 

The last win of this run was coincidentally over Leeds but a much more comfortable affair than the Cup final as the Bulls won 48-22 with Vainikolo and Vaikona scoring braces. 

The following game was a surprise loss to London Broncos which started a mid-season slump of three losses in five matches including consecutive losses to Wigan and St Helens. 

It was again another heavy defeat against the latter, this time without the Bulls registering a point but as in the first half of the season they bounced back impressively, with eight successive wins.

Another loss to Wigan halted this particular run, but the Bulls won the next two including a 21-20 victory over Leeds with Deacon kicking two drop-goals. 

They disappointingly lost their final home match of the regular season to Castleford.  However they finally put the St Helens demons to bed with a 22-18 win at Knowsley Road to secure the League Leaders shield ahead of Leeds. 

They finished the regular season as the top points scorers and with the second best defence with a record of 22 wins and six defeats. 

Play-offs

Their Qualifying semi-final saw them entertain the Rhinos at Odsal and they comfortably booked their place at Old Trafford with a 30-14 victory thanks to tries from a Michael Forshaw double, Vainikolo and Pryce.

Leeds would have another chance to reach the final when they met Wigan but were edged out 23-22 as the Warriors set up a rematch of the 2001 showdown.

With two defeats to Wigan from their three regular season games, it was a tough task for the Bulls as they looked to repeat their performance of two years earlier in a 37-6 thrashing in the showpiece event. 

Bradford Bulls had lost the Grand Final the year before to St Helens with Sean Long’s drop-goal condemning them to an 18-19 defeat. 

They fell behind here after Danny Tickle’s try, converted by Andy Farrell but Paul Deacon slotted over two penalties as Bradford were two points behind at the break. 

Another Deacon two-pointer levelled the scores soon after the restart and with Stuart Reardon and Shontayne Hape both crossing, allied with superb goal-kicking from the halfback gave Bradford an 12-point lead. 

Deacon put the game beyond doubt when he knocked over a drop-goal with 10 minutes left although Warriors star Kris Radlinkski gave his side hope with a late score. However hooker Jimmy Lowes finally put the game to bed with the Bulls’ third try with Deacon typically converting.

This historic victory ensured Bradford become the first side in the Super League era to win the treble.   

The Players

Lesley Vainikolo would finish as the Bulls top-scorer with 26 tries but they offered threats everywhere across their backline. 

Centre Leon Pryce notched 21 tries while his centre partner Shontayne Hape scored 21 with Tevita Vaikona crossing 16 times. 

Their pack was one of the best in the league with Stuart Fielden, Jamie Peacock and Jamie Langley never taking a backward step, superbly led by hooker Jimmy Lowes. 

The Bradford Bulls Squad in full

Robbie Hunter-Paul, Tevita Vaikona, Leon Pryce, Shontayne Hape, Lesley Vainikolo, Michael Withers, Paul Deacon, Joe Vagana, James Lowes, Paul Anderson, Daniel Gartner, Jamie Peacock, Mike Forshaw, Lee Gilmour, Karl Pratt, Alex Wilkinson, Stuart Reardon, Lee Radford, Jamie Langley, Scott Naylor, Karl Pryce, Vinny Myler, Chris Bridge, Rob Parker, Stuart Fielden, Richard Moore

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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