A half of pure spirit invigorates Leeds

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The Independent Online

Leeds came out of this game with more consolation than most Challenge Cup final losers. To them goes the credit of creating an exciting contest from a match that looked dead and buried by half-time. Although Bradford were worthy winners they were made to fight for the Cup to the very end.

And Leeds will carry into the rest of the summer the confidence they gained in that second half. The belief they gained in that 40 minutes should put an end to the bleak spell that has soured their prospect over the past month or so.

There was a time not so long ago that this final signalled the end of the season - now it is just the beginning and their triumph will allow Bradford to go on with every hope of dominating the Super League.

But Leeds surely gained enough heart to force their way into the play-offs and I certainly feel that this wasn't the last mighty collision we'll see between these clubs before summer is out.

It is not often that you can witness a team shrug off a slump during the course of 80 minutes but that's what Leeds did. They came into the game with their lack of confidence glaring from everything they did. But by the second half it was Bradford who were displaying signs of self-doubt as Leeds swarmed over them.

One of the keys to this transformation was that Henry Paul's inaccurate goal-kicking kept the half-time scoreline to 14-2 when it should have been 20-2. Not having such a deficit to overcome made a big difference to Leeds hopes. The other key was the switching of Iestyn Harris to stand-off in the second-half. He was able to direct his team to wave after wave of attacks that tested the excellent Bradford defence to the limit.

How different things might have been had Leeds not gifted the Bulls a couple of tries in the first half. Bradford had the good sense to keep it simple. They just played out their sets of six and finished with a kick.

On two occasion, the kicks proved to be too wickedly accurate for poor Leroy Rivett, who was put under so much pressure he allowed Michael Withers to score two tries.

Less than 25 minutes had gone at that time and everyone in Murrayfield must have prepared themselves to witness a massacre. But it turned out to be anything but that. Leeds found the spirit to cast off their early-season gloom and make a very good game of it.

It is still hard to believe that the game went on at all but the Murrayfield pitch, submerged under a yard of water on Thursday, was in good nick even if it did drag on the legs before the end. It all justified the experiment of playing in Edinburgh and managed to send both sets of fans home with something to be happy about.

Although I wouldn't begrudge Henry Paul anything, I'm not sure I would have voted for him to receive the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match. There were several others with stronger claims. Withers' two tries gave him a claim, James Lowes made an excellent all-round contribution and Harris was instrumental in rescuing his side from a rout.

No doubt, however, about the credit that is due to Bulls' coach Matthew Elliott, who has created a team that is going to be well worth watching this season. And in the handing out of bouquets we must not forget referee Steven Presley, who was brilliant in his fuss-free handling of the game.

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