Bradford hold firm to weather Leeds storm

Leeds 16 Bradford 18
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The Independent Online

Leeds' biggest ever Super League crowd and the second best anywhere since the launch of the competition saw Bradford beat the Rhinos for the third time this season to go two points clear of them at the top of the table. The 23,035 who packed into Headingley were treated to a fierce and engrossing contest with Leeds threatening to snatch back the initiative right to the end.

If Leeds were under the impression that they were to face a badly under-strength Bradford side they were disabused by a team sheet that included Leon Pryce at stand-off and Stuart Fielden returning via the bench.

The opening exchanges were brutally hard and produced only two fleeting chances - one when Lesley Vainikolo could not take Paul Deacon's cross kick and when Keith Senior failed to hang on to Andrew Dunemann's long pass.

One scrum broke up with Barrie McDermott and Paul Anderson wrestling on the ground, which summed up the way the game had started and Leeds should have broken the deadlock when Kevin Sinfield missed an offside penalty.

Matt Adamson and Mike Forshaw were the next combatants and this time Leeds used the possession to build pressure on the Bradford line. It rebounded on them, however, when Dunemann launched a high kick and Vainikolo took it almost on his own line to race away and score a length-of-the-field classic which was converted by Deacon.

Leeds continued to enjoy the better field position, but Bradford's line held firm until the 34th minute when the Rhinos finally found a way through.

Matt Diskin and Dunemann created the width with long passes and Gary Connolly marked his 500th senior game in British Rugby League by selling a little dummy and squeezing in at the corner with Sinfield equalising from the touchline.

Having got there once, two minutes later Leeds were over again. Diskin did splendid work through the middle and Danny McGuire got away from acting half for Senior to pull out of Pryce's tackle and lunge over, with Sinfield this time unable to convert. Only a crash tackle by Stuart Reardon on McGuire cut off the possibility of a third Leeds try before half-time.

Leeds were desperately close again a minute into the second half when Diskin had a try disallowed for offside from Sinfield's kick. Instead, Bradford hit back with a try of total simplicity, Rob Parker taking James Lowes' pass and going through a gap left by Willie Poching rushing up.

Deacon's version put the Bulls ahead and they stretched that lead with a try set up by Jamie Peacock's scything run. Although Connolly caught him on the line, he got his pass away for Forshaw and another six points.

Back came Leeds with Sinfield's kick coming off Tevita Vaikona for Rob Burrow to touch down and Sinfield's goal to reduce the arrears to two points.

Much of the remaining quarter consisted of Leeds battering the Bradford line, but the Bulls were back to their impregnable best and the Rhinos' last real chance went when Chris McKenna was dragged into touch just before he could get his pass to Calderwood.

Leeds: Connolly; Calderwood, McKenna, Senior, Cummins; Sinfield, Dunemann; Ward, Diskin, McDermott, Adamson, Furner, Poching.

Substitutes used: Feather, McDonald, Burrow, McGuire.

Bradford: Reardon; Vaikona, Naylor, Hape, Vainikolo; Pryce, Deacon; Vagana, Lowes, Anderson, Peacock, Radford, Forshaw.

Substitutes used: Gilmour, Fielden, Parker, Langley.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).