PAUL SYKES would surely play Bradford Bulls every week of the year if he had the chance.
The former Odsal favourite returned there again yesterday and, in dramatic circumstances, came up with the match-winning penalty after the final hooter for heroic Dewsbury Rams.
This is the same Paul Sykes who broke Bradford hearts with a definitive drop-goal to knock them out of the Challenge Cup earlier this season, too.
Now he has left Bulls’ promotion hopes in tatters as well; they have dropped to sixth in the Championship and were turgid.
On this dismal, mistake-ridden form, the erstwhile Super League champions could even struggle to make the top-four and Qualifiers, let alone their top-two target.
Sykes, the 34-year-old former England international, certainly could not believe his luck when gifted the chance of glory here in some crazy final moments.
Dewsbury had been under pressure throughout the second period, unsurprisingly given they were on the back of a 12-1 penalty count.
They had led 14-6 at half-time against their full-time opponents, who had been truly atrocious in that first period, but then saw Danny Addy level the contest with a penalty just 50 seconds from time.
That should have been that, the points shared.
However, after the restart, for some reason known only to himself, Bradford prop Adam Sidlow tried chipping out of his own 20m area with a desperate, needless act.
To compound the incredulous tactic, he then shoved Dewsbury winger Dalton Grant when chasing the ball down – and referee Warren Turley awarded a penalty just before the hooter sounded.
Sykes, who played more than 100 games for Bradford in two spells, lined up the kick – and was met by eight opponents all lined up just 1om in front of him in a desperate attempt to put him off.
The tactic did not work.
He sailed the tricky kick over from just short of the 40m mark, raised his arms high and was hoisted aloft by jubilant team-mates.
This win was just as important for part-timers Dewsbury and their coach Glenn Morrison, himself a former Odsal star who operated alongside Sykes there for two years in 2008 and 2009.
They had been falling dangerously close to the relegation zone but this win has revived them and it was the least they deserved.
As Bradford self-imploded in the first period, looking more like a Yorkshire League Division Five side than one allegedly aiming for Super League, Dewsbury should have been further ahead.
As it was, all they had to show for their dominance was Grady’s try in the 20th minute after a smart runaround from Dom Speakman, and a second effort from Josh Guzdek after Scott Hale’s fine break.
Sykes improved both and added a penalty in the 40th minute, Bradford’s only response being Jay Pitts’s 25th-minute converted effort when they held onto the ball long enough to get to a kick, Danny Williams palming down Oscar Thomas’s crossfield effort.
Bradford, who lost Lucas Walshaw to concussion in the third minute, had few positives in new head coach Rohan Smith’s first home game in charge.
They produced a raft of unforced errors that had to be seen to be believed.
However, Epalahame Lauaki, the former Hull FC prop, at least brought some no-nonsense physicality in his first appearance since the opening game of the season while Adam O’Brien, the hooker, instantly brought some clarity to their play when coming on at half-time.
When he was high tackled, Addy slotted a 53rd-minute penalty to get to within one score and Dewsbury were soon put on a team warning after conceding six successive penalties.
However, Bradford spilled the ball in their 20 yet again and Morrison’s side could breathe momentarily again. Addy and Lauaki went close before Dewsbury conceded another penalty – but there was still no card – and then O’Brien finally twisted over in the 61st minute.
Crucially, though, Addy pulled his conversion wide and the visitors kept hanging on – even when referee Warren Turley gave a second team warning and, bizarrely, still did not sin-bin any Dewsbury player.
The official finally did in the 80th minute when Nathan Conroy was penalised for a high tackle on Mitch Clark, Addy – who moments earlier had turned down a kickable chance – levelling the game.
But then came that sheer madness on Bradford’s part… and elation for Sykes, Morrison and co.
Bradford Bulls: Clare; Williams, Walshaw, Welham, Caro; Mathers, Thomas; Crossley, Addy, Clark, Olbison, Ferguson, Pitts. Substitutes: O’Brien, Sidlow, Lauaki, Haggerty.
Dewsbury Rams: Guzdek; Morton, Crookes, Grady, Grant; Sykes, Kain; Groat, Speakman, Trout, Spicer, Hale. Adamson. Substitutes: Brown, Conroy, Muranka, Hepworth.
Referee: Warren Turley (Leigh).