Bradford 52 Salford 8: Deacon's leadership gives Bulls faith on long road to grand final

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The Independent Online

No team has ever reached the Super League grand final having finished outside the top three in the regular season but the defending champions, Bradford, are determined to re-write the history books. Their hammering of play-off debutants Salford on Saturday kept alive their hopes of a sixth successive appearance at Old Trafford.

Impressive displays by the half-backs, Paul Deacon and Iestyn Harris, and the Kiwi centre Shontayne Hape ruined Salford's hopes and spearheaded the Bulls' return to form as they cast aside some decidedly inconsistent recent league displays.

Deacon's superb tactical kicking and fine approach play saw him involved in the build-up to five tries, Harris was credited with three direct assists and Hape provided the cutting edge with a four-try haul. Deacon, who set the tone by forcing Salford into two goal-line drop-outs inside the first two minutes, also landed eight goals.

"The grand final is a long way off," said the Bulls' coach, Steve McNamara. "We don't expect to be there, as there are a lot of good sides in front of us. But there is a desire and a passion to get there again. We are the champions and we're a pretty proud bunch. We've got the trophy and someone has got to take it off us.

"We have lost a lot of players with mountains of grand final experience, like Stuart Fielden, Jamie Peacock, Leon Pryce and Robbie Paul. It is credit to the experienced players still here and the culture of the club that we seem to find our best form for the play-offs."

Bradford have reached the last five grand finals, winning three, and after Leeds' shock home defeat by Warrington last Friday now face a similar route to Old Trafford as in 2005. Karl Harrison, Salford's coach and a former assistant to McNamara's predecessor Brian Noble at the Bulls, refuses to write off their chances.

"They can do it from fourth," he said. "They've got players who like playing on the big stage. They are at home again next week [to Warrington] and if they get a result, they will not fear St Helens or Hull."

Bradford: Withers; Bai, B Harris, Hape, Vainikolo; I Harris, Deacon; Vagana, Newton, Lynch, McKenna, Meyers, Ferres. Substitutes used: Johnson, Burgess, Henderson, Pryce.

Salford: Fitzpatrick; Hodgson, McGuinness, Moule, Wilshere; Dunemann, Robinson; Coley, Alker, Rutgerson, Finnigan, Littler, Charles. Substitutes used: Highton, Adamson, Haggerty, Brocklehurst.

Referee: A Klein (Silsden).

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