Life without Iestyn Harris loomed as a long hard road for Leeds as Bradford regained their two-point lead at the top of Super League without needing to be at their best or take anything like all their chances. At the end of a week that saw their captain finally depart for Welsh rugby union, the Rhinos played without inspiration or conviction, and the prospect of London or Castleford overhauling them for their place in the play-offs is now a real one.
A rudderless Leeds were blown away in the first 17 minutes, with the Gloucester-bound Henry Paul scoring one try and helping to set up others for Scott Naylor and Tevita Vaikona.
Amid that lot, a mixed double of streakers demonstrated their disdain for rugby union – played cheek by jowl with league at Headingley for the first time yesterday – and Leeds' defence had been similarly exposed. The Rhinos did not leak points at the same rate thereafter, but that had much to do with Bradford's failure to convert their chances. Several went begging before half-time, with Leon Pryce's length-of-the-field effort cruelly but rightly disallowed after he caught the ball in his own in-goal.
"If we had executed better, we would have scored a lot more points,'' said the Bradford coach, Brian Noble. "But our defence was super and we bashed them.''
Leeds made a token effort to get back into the game when Harris' replacement at stand-off, Karl Pratt, was rewarded for his industry as he snapped up a loose ball near the Bradford line.
Bradford had been dragged part of the way down to their hosts' level, but Robbie Paul wriggled over from dummy half and Jamie Peacock sent Michael Withers through a wide-open defence for a strong finish as Leeds went off to a disillusioned under-current of booing.
Their coach, Daryl Powell, refused to blame the furore over Harris' leaving for such a shoddy performance. "It's been a distraction for a long time,'' he said. "Hopefully, that will diminish now.''
Leeds are certainly going to have to adapt to their new circumstances rapidly if they are not to end the season in a depressing anticlimax. London and Castleford will have watched this and quietly fancied their chances of making the top five.
Leeds: Cummins, Walker, Carroll, Senior, Calderwood, Pratt, Sheridan, Mathiou, Mears, Barrie McDermot, Hay, Fleary, Sinfield. Subs used: Rench, Ward, Diskin, Kirk.
Bradford: Withers, Viakona, Naylor, McKay, Pryce, H Paul, Deacon, Brian McDermot, Lowes, Vagana, Peacock, Gartner, Forshaw. Subs used: R Paul, Rigon, Anderson, McAvoy.
Referee: R Smith (Castleford).Reuse content