Vaikona's class gives Bradford the edge

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The Independent Online

Bradford averted a second defeat at Odsal in six weeks by Leeds last night and kept alive their slim hopes of finishing as runners-up in Super League.

Bradford averted a second defeat at Odsal in six weeks by Leeds last night and kept alive their slim hopes of finishing as runners-up in Super League.

Just like their last meeting, there was a mere two-point margin at full-time to show the difference between well-matched opponents. But for a solo try from Tevita Vaikona, the result could easily have gone the other way.

There might have been little riding on it other than the form and confidence with which both sides will go into the play-offs, but there was still another big crowd for the latest installment in the grudge match between these least neighbourly of neighbours.

It took some time to find a ball, but when they did Leeds took the lead from what must have been the season's quickest penalty, Henry Paul being caught offside from Iestyn Harris's short kick-off and Harris putting his kick over.

Paul levelled the scores after a holding down offence on Michael Withers and the rest of the first quarter was an arm wrestle, with neither side able to break down the other's defence, although Leeds came close to doing so when Andy Hay was held on the try-line after catching Harris's clever chip.

They certainly should have gone ahead when Hay's break put them in the clear, but he failed to get his pass away to the supporting Francis Cummins.

Leeds were made to pay for such omissions when, just before the half-hour, Paul Deacon danced through with perfect balance to send the Bradford substitute, Hudson Smith, step over the line with his first touch of the ball. Harris narrowed the gap with two penalties, one awarded against Paul for dissent and the second from half-way after Paul had put his kick-off straight into touch, but Leeds knew they had had the chances in the first half to be ahead.

Leeds had another opportunity early in the second half, but Stewart Spruce made the vital tackle on the runaway Paul Sterling.

Deacon's masterful long pass gave Leon Pryce the next opening in a match of few such invitations, but an equally good tackle from Harris put him in touch. Another Deacon run almost laid on a try for David Boyle, but the match still hung in the balance. The veteran Daryl Powell, in the final weeks of his last season, then showed how to turn a break into points, timing his pass perfectly to send Cummins away for a converted try.

It could have been a game-breaker, but Bradford came back with Vaikona's diagonal run to scatter the Leeds defence with 15 minutes to play, Paul's kick putting the Bulls back in front.

Leeds still had their possibilities in the time remaining, but their hands let them down a couple of times and James Lowes's tackle cut down Powell as he threatened to set up the winner.

Lowes, who handed the captaincy to Spruce after the controversy over his contribution last week, was singled out by his coach, Matthew Elliott. "Jimmy was magnificent," he said: "He stood down as captain through his own decision because he thought it was putting too much pressure on the team."

Bradford Bulls: Spruce; Vaikona, Naylor, Withers, Pryce; H Paul, Deacon; McDermott, Lowes, Anderson, Peacock, Forshaw, McKay. Substitutes used: Brooker, Boyle, Smith, Radford.

Leeds Rhinos: Cummins; Sterling, Blackmore, Senior, Pratt; Harris, Sheridan; Fleary, Jackson, Mathiou, Morley, Sinfield, Hay. Substitutes used: Farrell, Powell, Barnhill.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).