Paul sees Bradford home and dry

Challenge Cup final: Bulls survive onslaught to break big-match jinx as Withers gives Leeds too much to do
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The Independent Online

Bradford finally buried their reputation as a side that chokes on the big occasion, surviving a late scare from opponents who should have been safely taken care of long before.

The temporary transplantation of the Silk Cup Challenge Cup final to Murrayfield did not produce a classic, in what, for Bradford, with their recent history, was a nerve-wracking finish. Twice beaten in Cup finals and edged out as well in last year's Super League Grand Final, there was more than a hint of that sorry sequence repeating itself when the Cup-holder's substitute Marcus St Hilaire touched down from Iestyn Harris' little kick two minutes from the end of scheduled time.

The conversion from Harris, tireless in a losing cause, took Leeds to within four points, but Bradford hung on. Henry Paul - whose unreliable place-kicking had been a factor in keeping Leeds in the game, despite his Lance Todd Trophy as man-of-the-match - put over a penalty in the seventh minute of time added on to finally ease the tension. "I was justifiably worried at that stage," admitted the Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott. "But I'm just so proud of the players."

In truth, if Bradford had lost this one you would have had to conclude that they might never succeed on the big occasion. That feeling would have been all the stronger for the way they dominated the early stages. There was always a risk when Leeds named last year's Wembley hero Leroy Rivett on the right wing that Bradford would bombard him with high kicks he would have great difficulty in taking against much taller opponents. And so it transpired.

Henry Paul had already put Bradford ahead with a penalty before he hoisted the first of the high kicks that made Rivett's first half a torment. On this occasion he was beaten to the ball by Tevita Vaikona, a late inclusion in the team, who did well to feed the ball on swiftly to Michael Withers, for an unopposed try in the corner.

Seven minutes later Henry Paul put it up again. This time Rivett did not even get underneath the ball, Withers kicking ahead and dropping on it for his second try. Harris at least registered Leeds presence with a penalty, but all the momentum of the game was in the opposite direction.

It was no surprise that the Bulls crossed for a third time after James Lowes and the newly-arrived David Boyle moved the ball to Nathan McAvoy on the right wing. Again a kick was instrumental in producing the try but this time it was a delicate chip over the head of the covering Harris which McAvoy took on the full for a delightful score.

If there was a consolation for Leeds it was that Henry Paul was missing his conversions, his third attempt hitting the post and a kickable penalty also going to waste before half-time.

Harris landed another penalty after Leeds most sustained spell of pressure so far at the start of the second half, but Bradford seemed well in control when yet another high kick from Henry Paul gifted a try, after lengthy video scrutiny, to Stuart Fielden.

But, in a match dominated by the bomb, probably to the detriment of the spectacle, Leeds hit back through the same route. This time Ryan Sheridan hoisted the ball, Francis Cummins beat Leon Pryce to it and Andy Hay touched down for another converted try, Harris's penalty reducing the margin to eight points. Those with memories of Bradford's run of failures against St Helens started to worry.

Anthony Farrell's high tackle on Robbie Paul allowed brother Henry to edge the Bulls that little bit closer to the finishing line, but then came St Hilaire's try and that latest test of character for Bradford. This time, they were equal to it.

"I didn't think the pressure was down to our bad play," said Elliott. "Leeds played some very constructive football. For us this is the start of something, definitely not the end of the line. I expect the team to grow in confidence from this."

For Dean Lance and Leeds, there was almost an air of moral victory after the way they were so heavily out-gunned in the first half. "We lost but we weren't beaten," he said, drawing a fine distinction. "I couldn't be prouder of their effort and I thought we were the better team in the second half."

Harris and Adrian Morley, in particular, deserved better than to be part of a team that gave up the Challenge Cup after the year it had spent in their possession, but it would have been Bradford's worse dereliction of their destiny so far if they had failed to complete the job. "It was good winning the Cup with Wigan," said Henry Paul. "But this was better."

Their veteran Australian loose forward Brad Mackay, the victim of so many Grand Final defeats himself in his homeland, predicted that the victory would mean the start of a new era and a new attitude for the Bulls. "It will mean that the pressure going into big games has gone," he said. "That pressure is no longer there and it won't come back and now we have got another competition to try to win. Even our supporters might have doubted us and Leeds really gave us a top match."

Bradford: Spruce, McAvoy, Naylor, Withers, Vaikona, H Paul, R Paul, Brian McDermott, Lowes, Anderson, Peacock, Forshaw, Mackay. Substitutes used: Pryce, Fielden, Dwyer, Boyle.

Leeds: Harris, Rivett, Blackmore, Senior, Cummins, Powell, Sheridan, Fleary, Lawford, Barrie McDermott, Morley, Farrell, Hay. Substitutes used: St Hilaire, Mathiou, Jackson, Barnhill.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).

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