Castleford. . . . . . 23
LEE CROOKS firmly believes that the referee John Connolly is a shrewd judge of character.
No great surprise there, because, if Connolly had attributed more malice than he did to a first-half clash of heads with Paul Newlove, Crooks would not have remained on the field as the dominant figure in this Regal Trophy semi-final.
The collision of the hard parts of the human anatomy with the more vulnerable areas is not just an issue in football, but a perennial one in rugby as well.
Even in replay, it was impossible to discern any malign intent in the way the top of Crooks' skull smashed into Newlove's cheekbone during a tackle. At the very least, though, and to borrow a phrase from the Fashanu case, Crooks was guilty of wielding one of the harder heads in the game without due care and attention.
Newlove could have hammed it up, but he is the most honest of players. After a long lecture, Connolly awarded only a penalty and Crooks continued a virtuoso performance.
Apart from creating one try with a clever kick, popping over a vital drop goal and landing three goals, Crooks' powerful running and ability to flick the telling short pass out of the tackle gave Castleford a momentum that rarely slackened.
Now in his thirties, Crooks' style of prop forward play has taken him in and out of fashion several times. He has rarely looked more effective than he did on Saturday.
Newlove, not necessarily by coincidence, had one of his quieter games. There were glimpses of his quality in the way he sent Brimah Kebbie away for his second try and in another threatening run soon after, but, by the standards to which Bradford have become accustomed, he was subdued.
The other outstanding performance, in fact, came from another Castleford forward - Tawera Nikau. For all his obvious ability, the New Zealander can sometimes be a peripheral presence. At Odsal, he was almost as squarely on centre stage as Crooks and he tormented Bradford by running at them from all manner of awkward angles.
The Castleford coach, John Joyner, believes that the thing to do with ball-handlers of Crooks' and Nikau's ability is simply to let them play. The way that they and others have performed this season suggests that the time is right for the longer leash that Joyner is allowing them.
The new Castleford coach, who played in their only final victory in 1977, admits to being less intense than his predecessor, Darryl Van de Velde. After four years of the Australian's obsessive perfectionism, Castleford are well enough organised to benefit from a more relaxed regime.
They can be relied upon to play expansive, enterprising rugby. Bradford, who could have been out of contention a lot earlier than they were, will vouch for their effectiveness as well.
Bradford Northern: Watson; Cordle, McGowan, Newlove, Kebbie; Summers, Fox; Hobbs (Grayshon, 40), Clark (Medley, 40), Hamer, Powell, Dixon, Heron.
Castleford: Steadman; Ellis, Smith, Anderson, Middleton; Kemp, Ford; Crooks, Russell, Ketteridge (Sampson, 74), Morrison, Smales (Hay, 45), Nikau.
Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).