Bulls come to life in sudden death as Pryce wrests title from Leeds

Leeds 6 Bradford 15
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The Independent Online

The way the competition is structured, winning it from outside the top two is a monumental effort, culminating in a month of sudden death rugby.

"If you're going to win it from third, fourth, fifth or sixth, you've got to be a pretty special team," was the way Leeds' vanquished coach, Tony Smith, summed it up. "It's not impossible, but it takes a big effort - and they produced a big effort."

Indeed they did - through the last two months of the regular season, through the play-off series and especially for the 80 minutes of the Grand Final.

After stumbling through the first two-thirds of the season, Bradford grew in the belief that they could finish it as champions, though it was not quite written in the stars. "We've created our own destiny," said their captain, Jamie Peacock.

The finale was, the Bulls coach, Brian Noble, conceded, no free-flowing classic. "It was a scruffy, tense game and we kept giving Leeds reasons to be in our part of the field."

It was there that Bradford won it. Their defensive determination, allied to Leeds' failure to fire in attack, meant that apart from Danny McGuire's first-half try there was simply no way through for the reigning champions.

If that was going to make them fiendishly difficult to beat, Bradford still needed to find their match-winners. Predictably, it was one of the players who, like Peacock, was playing his last game for the club who was pre-eminent among them.

Leon Pryce has not always been the easiest of players to have around the club. That is one of the reasons why Bradford were reluctant to offer him what he thought his new contract should be worth and why he will be playing his rugby at St Helens next season.

But he is a genuine talent, always capable of doing surprising things, and his form since he decided to leave shows that he can be single-minded as well. He produced most of the game's exciting broken-field running, including the burst of acceleration that brought him Bradford's first try, and was a clear choice for the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match.

"Along with the birth of my son, it was the greatest achievement of my career," he said.

It will be fascinating to see how that career develops. The next step should be Noble naming him today in the Great Britain squad for the Tri-Nations. That could see him playing, as he has for Bradford, in a free-ranging role on the wing, although his ambition at Saints is to be their regular stand-off.

Then there was Lesley Vainikolo, tormented by Leeds' kicking game on the same occasion last year. They tried the same tactic on Saturday, but found him resolute and decisive.

This was not the sort of game where he could expect a lot of clear chances. Instead, he went looking for work all over the field and got his reward when he surged over from dummy-half after 56 minutes to give his side what was, in the context of such a tight game, a significant eight-point lead.

It was sweet revenge for him and, in the first repeat Grand Final, for the whole Bradford club, but it is worth remembering that this has not exactly been a bad season for Leeds.

Defending their title was always destined to be a major challenge and they have been involved in every big occasion of the season, from winning the World Club Challenge in February to losing the Challenge Cup final in August and now tasting disappointment again in October.

They had an inspiring figure of their own at Old Trafford in Andrew Dunemann, another making his farewell appearance, who never stopped working and probing, including creating McGuire's try.

Unfortunately, too many of the other creative players in the Leeds side sparked only fitfully. The others who are leaving - Chris McKenna, Marcus Bai and Barrie McDermott - were left contemplating what might have been.

Not so Peacock, who joins the Rhinos next season. "It's been the perfect way to finish, but it's perfect for a lot of players who are leaving the club," he said.

Regrets, has he got a few? No, he'll do it his way. "I've made my decision and I'll make it the right decision."

Noble, who has man-managed the impending departures expertly, joked that he would love to borrow back Peacock for the World Club fixture against Wests Tigers in February.

He might conceivably have more luck with a similar request to the Sydney Roosters for the services of Adrian Morley. He ended his short-term loan with a typically rumbustious display against his former club.

It was very much his sort of game - not particularly pretty, but tough, tense and uncompromising.

Leeds: Mathers; Calderwood, Walker, McKenna, Bai; McGuire, Burrow; Bailey, Dunemann, Ward, Ellis, Poching, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Diskin, Jones-Buchanan, McDermott.

Bradford: Withers; Pryce, B Harris, Hape, Vainikolo; I Harris, Deacon; Fielden, Henderson, Peacock, Johnson, Meyers, Radford. Substitutes used: Paul, Morley, Vagana, Langley.

Referee: A Klein (London).