Rugby League: Leeds trampled upon by stampeding Bulls

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The Independent Online
DAVE HADFIELD

Bradford Bulls 28 Leeds 6

The faces of the Leeds management team, Dean Bell and Hugh McGahan, at half-time said it all. They were going to talk to a team on its way to an overwhelming Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by opponents they were generally expected to beat - and they looked like a pair of basilisks.

It was indeed a display of dire, directionless rugby sufficient to freeze the blood and the faces of the Leeds camp. All their faults - notably lack of focus at half-back and weak defence out wide - were ruthlessly exposed.

It is not to denigrate Bradford's performance on Saturday to say that Leeds were ripe for the beating. It was the extent of the Bulls' victory that spoke volumes for the restructuring that Brian Smith has been carrying through.

For a team in which most members are still getting to know each other, the quality of Bradford's play was startling. Always looking to keep the ball alive, they shredded Leeds' defence almost at will and should have scored more than their five tries.

Much of the damage was done by the left-wing triangle of Jeremy Donougher, Paul Loughlin and Jonathan Scales. Loughlin might be a veteran and a makeweight in the deal that took Paul Newlove to St Helens but, given a rampaging, wide-running forward like Donougher to work with, there are still few better centres.

Scales, unrecognisable from the player whose confidence was destroyed by a disastrous afternoon on the wing for Leeds at Warrington two years ago, benefitted with three tries. His defence was never tested, but the finishing of a player who left Headingley last summer was exemplary.

Another to follow that well-trod path, Paul Cook, kicked four goals and frequently troubled his old team-mates with his side-stepping runs from full-back, while yet another old Loiner, Paul Medley, will be difficult to omit from the starting line-up at Wembley when the Bulls meet St Helens on 27 April, after his energetic contribution when brought on as a substitute.

Although Gary Christie and Sonny Nickle had quiet afternoons, Bradford did not have a poor player. Perhaps the most startling contrast between the two sides was at half-back, where both teams used players in positions that might not be their most natural - but there the comparison ended.

Leeds' George Mann and Graham Holroyd looked an ersatz solution to a nagging problem, but the Bradford partnership of Graeme Bradley and Robbie Paul played as though born to the roles.

The decision to use Bradley at stand-off and Matt Calland at centre looked a defensive impulse on paper. It looked anything but that on the pitch, with the experienced Australian controlling much of his side's attacking play.

Paul will probably play most of his career at stand-off, but his incisive, creative rugby from scrum-half was an important part of Bradford's success. His remarkable maturity will be underlined next month when, at 20, he will become the youngest-ever Wembley captain.

And, if he can preside over another performance as good as the one at Huddersfield on Saturday, there is no reason why Bradford cannot win the Challenge Cup for the first time in 47 years.

Bradford Bulls: Cook (Longo, 68); Christie, Calland, Loughlin, Scales; Bradley, Paul; McDermott, Donohue, Fairbank (Knox, 58), Donougher, Nickle, Knox (Medley, 28).

Leeds: A Gibbons (Golden, 29); Fallon, Iro, Cummins, Hassan; Mann (Gibbons, 72), Holroyd; Harmon, Shaw, Howard, Morley, Field (Schultz, 27), Forshaw (Field, 51).

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

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