Leeds Rhinos 36 Bradford Bulls 18
Leeds Rhinos ended a 23-month wait for a win against Bradford Bulls with a 26-18 triumph at Headingley.
The Rhinos ended Bradford’s 100% start to the year and kept themselves unbeaten at the top of Super League with the victory, their first in the last eight meetings.
They were inspired by two-try Danny McGuire, but matched the Bulls blow for blow in a thrilling game watched by 21,225 supporters.
The Rhinos took a 12th minute lead, when Danny McGuire’s grubber bounced off the base of the Bradford post and Andrew Dunemann pounced to touch down. Kevin Sinfield goaled, but the Bulls were back on terms inside four minutes, mainly thanks to a piece of superb play from captain Robbie Paul.
Paul – on his first start since last June after his return from a broken arm – danced across the face of the Leeds defence before freeing Shontayne Hape on the left, with Lesley Vainikolo taking his fine offload to dive in. Paul Deacon added the conversion, but Leeds found themselves unable to convert their chances during the next quarter of an hour.
Substitute Willie Poching was well involved on his introduction, firstly knocking on a Sinfield grubber before then supporting a break down the right and later being held up over the line. Centre Keith Senior was also a constant danger, while Vainikolo’s power and pace saw him trouble the Rhinos defence. It was going to take a special play to break the deadlock, and McGuire provided that five minutes before the break.
The young stand off may have been named on the bench in midweek, but he proved that there is no substitute for class by taking Sinfield’s long pass and dummying before skirting around Paul Johnson to touch down. Sinfield’s missed conversion attempt meant that Leeds took a narrow 10-6 lead into the break, but they made an ideal start to the second period with a try inside two minutes.
Both Leon Pryce and Michael Withers were unable to deal with a McGuire grubber, and Marcus Bai snapped up the loose ball to reach over in the corner and create a 14-6 cushion. Bradford hit back on 55 minutes with a well-worked try, Pryce and Stuart Fielden linking before Deacon kicked to the corner and Hape – himself back from a broken arm – collected to touch down. Deacon’s magnificent touchline effort put the Bulls back to within two points, but two tries in a devastating three-minute spell put the Rhinos in command.
Firstly, Sinfield’s swift pass from the base of the scrum allowed McGuire to dummy and race in from 30 metres for his second score, before they charged back downfield and Chris Feather capped a strong display by powering in. Two Sinfield goals put them 26-12 ahead going into the final ten minutes, but Bradford sensed a late fightback when Tevita Vaikona touched down after Stuart Reardon had kept the ball alive well.