Leeds won their first Super League Grand Final and ended a wait to be crowned as the game's top club that went back all the way to 1972.
Leeds won their first Super League Grand Final and ended a wait to be crowned as the game's top club that went back all the way to 1972. The Rhinos dominated a game of ferocious intensity at Old Trafford, and were unrecognisable for the team swept aside by the Bulls in their play-off match two weeks ago.
Bradford's defence was overworked, but remained so good that the game went into its last five minutes before Leeds finally got the try that enabled them to breathe easily. Fittingly, it went to the prolific Danny McGuire, such a talisman for them during a memorable season.
The Bradford captain, Robbie Paul, knocked on in a way that typified the understandable weariness of many of his team-mates. From that possession, McGuire ran from dummy-half and got the ball to Keith Senior, who returned it with interest for the gifted young half-back to dive low over the try-line. Kevin Sinfield kicked the goal that ensured that Leeds would not be caught, and their long-suffering fans could finally celebrate their supremacy in the British game.
Tony Smith has been rugby league's tinkerman this season, but after all the speculation over what changes he would make he wrong-footed everyone by naming the same team as he had for the previous match for the first time this year. That meant no roles on the big stage for battle-hardened veterans such as Andrew Dunemann, Matt Adamson and Wayne McDonald, and a vote of confidence in the ability of the slightly built Mark Calderwood to match it with the Bulls' fearsome Lesley Vainikolo on the wing.
Bradford's decisions were more straightforward, with Brian Noble bringing in Paul Johnson for the injured Leon Pryce and giving places on the substitutes' bench to Jamie Langley and the St Helens-bound prop Paul Anderson.
Old Trafford was packed for the second year in succession, and in the first all-Yorkshire Grand Final much was going to depend on which of these fierce rivals had got their team selection right. All the early indications were in Leeds's favour, with Vainikolo losing Sinfield's kick and Joe Vagana conceding a penalty for ball-stealing which Sinfield put over to give the Rhinos a third-minute lead. The big winger had his revenge five minutes later, though, thanks to magical Bradford handling. Paul triggered it with a runaround with Lee Radford and a clever backhanded pass to Shontayne Hape, who sent Vainikolo over in the corner, too far out for Paul Deacon to convert.
Bradford were still making nervous mistakes, and when Radford lost the ball in the tackle Leeds made them pay. Their player of the year, Matt Diskin, went on a diagonal run, and with the defence convinced that he was going to pass to McGuire, he found his way to the line. Sinfield kicked his second goal .
Richie Mathers could have been over if he had not lost the ball, and it took a penalty conceded by Barrie McDermott for a high tackle on Stuart Fielden to lift the pressure, but the position was wasted by Karl Pratt's forward pass. Bradford went a little closer after 27 minutes, Hape going over from Vainikolo's long pass, but the try was disallowed because Radford had passed after being grounded in the tackle. Iestyn Harris conceded a penalty for stealing the ball from Willie Poching and Sinfield kicked the Rhinos further ahead, which was a fair reflection of the edge they had enjoyed.
Leeds surrendered the initiative to the Bulls at the start of the second period by conceding two quick penalties to help their opponents up the field. Bradford had taken a battering, but once more, when they got a good position, they made full use of it, Deacon and Logan Swann moving the ball swiftly to the left for Hape to go over. Deacon's missed conversion left Leeds with a two-point lead.
The Rhinos piled on the pressure after that, but Calderwood knocked on to ruin their chance of rebuilding their lead. Another opportunity went begging when Sinfield threw an uncharacteristically poor pass to Chev Walker. Harris then had to fly back to clear McGuire's dangerous kick from the onrushing Ali Lauitiiti as the Bradford defence continued to bend, but not break.
Somehow, Bradford continued to stand up to the barrage, and they mounted a threat of their own through Deacon's break with Vainikolo in support, but the kick that ended the move was straight down Marcus Bai's throat. It was still a warning of what the Bulls could do if they were not finished off, but with five minutes to play, they were.
As the final hooter sounded, all the frustration of 32 years of being arguably the biggest club in the game, but a long way from the most successful, was finally put to rest.
Bradford: Withers; Reardon, Johnson, Hape, Vainikolo; Harris, Deacon; Vagana, Paul, Fielden, Peacock, Swann, Radford. Substitutes used: Pratt, Langley, Parker, Anderson.
Leeds: Mathers; Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Bai; Sinfield, McGuire; Ward, Diskin, Bailey, McKenna, Lauitiiti, Furner.Substitutes used: Burrow, Poching, McDermott, Jones-Buchanan.
Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).Reuse content