Deacon and Harris provide Bulls with renewed heart

Leeds 12 Bradford 26
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Just in time, Bradford's parts have come together to form a whole capable of retaining their Super League title.

Just in time, Bradford's parts have come together to form a whole capable of retaining their Super League title.

Beaten three times by Leeds this season, the Bulls got it right in the most important meeting so far, Saturday night's qualifier for the Old Trafford Grand Final, in some style.

Although they were indebted to some gritty defence at a time when Leeds were dominating possession, the big change for Bradford is that their midfield triangle has started to click.

The man of the match, Paul Deacon, and Iestyn Harris showed signs of becoming a really effective combination. "I thought our half-backs were great,'' said their coach, Brian Noble.

"I didn't think that Iestyn would be as effective yet as he is now. I thought it would be next season.'' Instead Harris and Deacon are in the process of forging a potent partnership that made Bradford unrecognisable from the side thrashed 40-12 at Headingley six weeks earlier.

"We didn't perform that day, but we learned a lot from it,'' said Deacon, whose tactical kicking and generalship were a timely reminder that he is Great Britain's incumbent scrum-half.

The other major bonus for the Bulls was that their captain, Robbie Paul, finally seems to be finding his feet in the hooking role.

Bradford have not replaced James Lowes, who retired at the end of last season, and Paul's initial struggle to adapt to the position has led some to speculate that his career could be on a downward spiral.

"I know everything that's been said about me this season, but the reality is that I've been learning a new job,'' he said. "I've played hooker before, but I've never done it full-time. I take my hat off to James. He's worked his arse off with me over the last six weeks and a lot of it is about building up that sort of confidence.''

After Bradford had led at half-time, thanks to two early Shontayne Hape tries against one for Leeds from Danny McGuire, it was Paul who scored the crucial try of the game 12 minutes into the second half, spinning in a tackle to make a gap for himself near the line.

Lee Radford then scored from Deacon's kick and, although Willie Poching got one back for the Rhinos, Lesley Vainikolo's last-minute touchdown underlined the way that the Bulls finished well in control.

It could have been quite different but for some wonderful scrambling defence during a first half which saw Leeds well capable of making breaks but unable to finish them off. Perhaps the best of a series of last-ditch tackles was Rob Parker's sprawling ankle tap to stop Chris McKenna in full flight.

"When you stop a certain try like that and then you keep them out for the next couple of tackles, it gives the whole team a lift,'' Deacon said. It also showed all too clearly how hungry the Bulls are to keep their crown. They now know that they will be at Old Trafford to try to do that a week on Saturday; Leeds and Wigan meet next Friday to decide who will have the daunting task of trying to stop them.

Leeds: Mathers; Walker, McKenna, Senior, Bai; McGuire, Dunemann; Bailey, Diskin, Ward, Furner, Adamson, Sinfield. Substitutes used: McDermott, Lauitiiti, Burrow, Poching.

Bradford: Withers; Reardon, Pryce, Hape, Vainikolo; Harris, Deacon; Vagana, Paul, Fielden, Peacock, Swann, Radford. Substitutes used: Pratt, Johnson, Parker, Moore.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).