Kevin Sinfield has no regrets about the decision that could have cost Leeds the replay that would have been the fairest outcome at the end of a Powergen Challenge Cup final with too much drama for a mere 80 minutes.
Cardiff's Millennium Stadium was a fitting stage for a final that might not have been the best in technical terms, but which had a story line as compelling as any. The twist in the tale on Saturday came when Sinfield, Leeds' hero with his kicking in the semi-final victory over St Helens two weeks earlier, had the chance with five minutes remaining to put over what would have been the equalising penalty. He chose to run the ball, Bradford's superb defence kept them out and the Bulls went on to lift the trophy.
"Their body language looked as though they were very tired,'' said the Rhinos' young captain. "I thought we had the chance to win it and, if we'd scored, we would have done. I could have taken the kick and might have missed. Looking back, I would still have done the same thing. I was amazed they defended four sets of tackles on their own line.''
That was a remarkable effort by a battered and bruised Bradford, but this was a game of great heroism from both sides.
Leeds had Matt Adamson, playing through the inevitable pain of a recently fractured cheekbone and jaw, and after a preparation disrupted by his young daughter breaking her arm, to typify their determination. His Bradford equivalent was Jamie Peacock, who has hardly played this season and who needed stitches in a reopened gash in his leg, but who put in a mighty performance that could easily have brought him the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.
That went instead to Gary Connolly, immaculate at full-back for Leeds, but unconsoled at the end by the individual accolade that could not make up for being on the losing side.
Leeds' agony – and there can surely have been few Cup final losers who looked quite so shattered at the end – was intensified by the knowledge that this was a game they had lost by the narrowest of margins. Sinfield's fateful decision, Keith Senior's momentary loss of composure to throw a vital ball into touch, several decisions from the referee, Russell Smith, and his video accomplice, Geoff Berry – any one of them could have swung it their way.
It was a game in which the officials played too large and too unsatisfactory a part. The first half lasted 51 minutes, included the waits for video decisionswhich still failed to resolve a number of issues. The second was almost as long and even continued after the stadium clock showed full-time and the decking was being carried on for the post-match formalities.
It looked and felt like too many interruptions for little certainty that the key verdicts were right; it certainly did not satisfy Leeds, who were convinced, with some justification, that they had had the rough end of most of the close calls.
"I thought they were very unlucky to lose today,'' admitted the Bradford scrum-half, Paul Deacon, with commendable honesty, after his own tidy and well-thought out game had contributed to his side's success.
The Leeds coach, Daryl Powell, experiencing defeat for the first time this season, was determined that this disappointment would not flatten the club. "This is the start of something special for Leeds Rhinos, not the end of anything,'' he insisted. "As a club we will move on from this. We will use it as motivation to make us stronger.''
Brave words, indeed, but Powell also had to admit that one of his own decisions had rebounded on him. He chose to leave out another of his semi-final match winners, Danny McGuire, but his plans were foiled when Rob Burrow took a heavy blow to the head and could not play the role that had been envisaged for him.
But this was not all about the losers and their pain and frustration. Bradford have had their share of dramatic failure on big occasions and this was a day for putting much of that to rights.
The Bradford coach, Brian Noble, has often talked about the players having monkeys and, on occasions, gorillas on their backs. On Saturday, he declared the monkeys dead and buried.
Sinfield, one of the most engaging personalities as well as one of the best young players in the game, will eventually bury his own disappointment. It will be little consolation to him to reflect that one group of people just as upset about the goal that never was as Leeds fans are the Rugby Football League. That kick would have been worth £1m in ticket sales for a replay at the end of May few would have wanted to miss.
Leeds: Connolly; Calderwood, McKenna, Senior, Cummins; Sinfield, Dunemann; Bailey, Diskin, McDermott, Walker, Adamson, Furner. Substitutes used: Burrow, Poching, Ward, McDonald.
Bradford: Paul; Vaikona, Naylor, Hape, Vainikolo; Pryce, Deacon; Vagana, Lowes, Gartner, Radford, Peacock, Forshaw. Substitutes used: Pratt, Gilmour, Parker, Anderson.
Referee: R Smith (Castleford).
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