Rugby League: Bulls stage thrilling finale

Bradford Bulls 19 Leeds Rhinos 18
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The Independent Online
BRADFORD SHOWED the resilience of champions last night as a record Super League crowd saw them edge out Leeds in the final dramatic minutes of yet another thrilling contest involving the competition's top tribes.

Outplayed in the first half, and then hit by what appeared to be a killer try five minutes from the end of normal time, the Bulls struck back with a try by Tevita Vaikona, converted by Steve McNamara. Then, as the game went into time added on, Michael Withers lined up a drop goal from an angle to the right of the sticks to give Bradford the narrowest of victories and send most of the 24,020 crowd home happy.

Leeds controlled the first half. They looked the more purposeful side from the start and took the lead after five minutes when Jeremy Donougher strayed offside and Iestyn Harris kicked the penalty.

Bradford compounded their error when McNamara kicked dead from the restart, giving Harris another shot at goal from halfway, one which he stroked over effortlessly.

Leeds maintained their momentum when, after only 11 minutes, they stretched their lead with the game's first try. Ryan Sheridan moved the ball to Daryl Powell, who slipped his pass back inside for Anthony Farrell to glide past a series of potential tackles to touch down, Harris adding the goal.

The nearest Bradford could get was when David Boyle lost the ball in the tackle near the line, although they did get on the scoreboard when Marc Glanville was penalised for a high tackle and McNamara landed the goal.

Leeds sneaked further ahead immediately after the break, with a penalty for an obstruction from the kick-off. Gradually, however, Bradford were adjusting to the absence of James Lowes, forced off injured in the first half, with his replacement, Paul Deacon, becoming more and more influential.

They had a try disallowed when the ball went forward from Robbie Paul before Leon Pryce touched down, but the same combination produced the crucial score just after the hour. This time, Paul kicked for the corner and Pryce beat Leroy Rivett to get downward pressure on the ball.

McNamara could not convert but soon produced a 40-20 kick to put the Bulls back on the attack. From the resulting pressure, McNamara chipped across a perfect kick for Nathan McAvoy to pluck out of the air and plant down. McNamara converted and Bradford were level.

Leeds seemed to have snatched it back when, after Bernard Dwyer had knocked on, their 16-year-old substitute Chev Walker took Andy Hay's pass to score with his first touch of the ball. Harris converted, but Bradford were simply not prepared to allow their party to be spoiled. Deacon's diagonal run set up the tying try and they were the ones who kept cool heads.

Bradford Bulls: Withers; Vaikona, Boyle, McAvoy, Pryce; H Paul, R Paul; Brian McDermott, Lowes, Anderson, Donougher, Dwyer, McNamara. Substitutes used: Deacon, Peacock, Jowitt, Fielden.

Leeds Rhinos: Harris; Rivett, Cummins, Godden, Sterling; Powell, Sheridan; Masella, Speak, Barrie McDermott, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: Walker, Hay, Fleary, Jackson.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).

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