Rugby League: Bulls batter way to Wembley

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Bradford 24

Leeds 10

It was the same venue, the same opponent and, ultimately, the same outcome as last year's Silk Cup Challenge Cup semi-final, but that is where the similarities with this year's model, dripping with vitriol and violence, ended. Bradford, last season's beaten finalists, will go back to Wembley on 3 May, but only after an unneighbourly dogfight at the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield.

If Leeds succumbed meekly a year ago, there was nothing meek or mild about this affair, which was full of bitterness and ill-will from start to finish.

Bradford's win reflected the fact that they are by far the more accomplished and established side, but there was no faulting Leeds' commitment this time. "I can leave here with a lot of hope, which I didn't have last year," Dean Bell, their coach, said.

There was certainly reason to be hopeful in the first quarter of the match, when Leeds set out their stall to get among the Bulls and knock them out of their stride. To a large extent, they succeeded and they had the bonus of an early try. It came when Graham Holroyd kicked into the no man's land between Paul Cook and Stuart Spruce and the bounce defeated both to enable Phil Hassan to regather and find Tony Kemp in support on his outside.

Bradford's defence had other reminders that they were facing a far more dangerous Leeds side when Spruce had to hack another kick to safety and when Anthony Farrell was stopped just short of the line soon after.

With the creative plans of players like Robbie Paul and Steve McNamara swamped by the sheer enthusiasm of Leeds' defence, Bradford could only ease their way into the game gradually, but it is a mark of their potency that one of their first attacks brought them a lead that they were never to lose.

Brian McDermott, whose excellent all-round display was marred when he was sent off five minutes from time, drove close to the Leeds line and the former Leeds hooker, James Lowes, kicked ahead, got a fortunate ricochet off a defender's shins and dived on the loose ball to score. McNamara added the goal.

His Leeds namesake, Barrie McDermott, might have considered himself lucky to stay on the field when he floored Graeme Bradley with a high tackle. Sony Nickle and Hassan did soon depart, but only for 10 minutes after laying into each other on the touchline.

Leeds finished the half with 11 men, after Richie Blackmore was also sin-binned for interfering at the play-the-ball and Bradford, keeping the pressure on with a tap penalty, scored the pivotal try of the match through Paul Loughlin. Yet another Leeds player might have gone off at this point, Adrian Morley clattering into Loughlin after he had scored, but the referees' chief, Greg McCallum, probably has enough to consider when he returns to his office next week.

McNamara sold a dummy for a try and landed the conversion and a penalty to give the Bulls a relatively comfortable lead early in the second half, but Martin Masella typified Leeds' spirit with a charging run to score a try to keep their hopes flickering.

The classy rugby, however, remained a Bradford prerogative, neat handling by Tahi Reihana, Paul and Loughlin sending Paul Medley away for the clincher. The game was decided, but there was still time for incident. McDermott, who has dabbled in professional boxing, was dismissed for using Terry Newton as a punchbag and twice in the dying minutes Leeds had tries disallowed which underlined Bell's point: "Bradford know they have been in a game."

Bradford: Spruce; Scales, Peacock, Loughlin, Cook; Radley, Paul; Brian McDermott, Lowes, Rehana, Nickle, Dwyer, McNamara.

Substitutes used: Tomlinson, Calland, Medley, Jowitt.

Leeds: Gibson; Sterling, Blackmore, Cummins, Hassan; Kemp, Holroyd; Masella, Collins, Mathiou, Morley, Farrell, Mercer.

Substitutes used: Rivett, Sheridan, Newton, Barrie McDermott.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).