A late Adam Sidlow try snatched a draw for Bradford against the old enemy in a pulsating contest at Headingley Stadium.
As the clock ticked down, and having already defended continuous sets of six on their own try line, Jamie Peacock was sent to the Sin Bin for a professional foul, leaving the Rhinos to defend relentless Bradford pressure with a man down. It proved a bridge too far for the tiring Leeds’ defenders as Adam Sidlow burst onto L’Eastrange’s short ball to crash over in front of the delirious travelling army of Bradford fans that were camped on the western terrace.
It was a result that looked highly unlikely after the opening minutes of the game. Leeds raced into a lead when Kalum Watkins touched down straight after the kick off and the Rhinos dominated much of the early proceedings. But the spirited Bulls side fought back into a lead through tries from Purtell and Olbinson. Achurch levelled things up for the Rhinos before the break to leave the game perfectly poised.
As the game went on and developed into a classic, Jamie Peacock’s try looked to have sealed victory for the Champions, before Sidlow’s late intervention.
Leeds got off to the perfect start when Kevin Sinfield’s booming kick off confused the Bradford defence and bounced into the arms of Jamie Jones-Buchanan, setting up field position to allow the Rhinos to shift the ball wide to Kalum Watkins who beat his man to dive over after just 25 seconds.
The hosts were over again just moments later when Hall chased down Moon’s grubber kick to touch down, but his effort was chalked off by the video referee, who ruled Jones-Buchanan was offside from the kick.
Bradford pulled level with a breathtaking try that saw the ball go through no fewer than eight pairs of hand - including twice though Jamie Foster’s who turned a pass back inside before backing up in the middle of the pitch – and was finished off when Elliot Whitehead’s one-handed offload was gratefully collected by Adrian Purtell to touch down.
The Bulls then made field position count when Jarryd Sammut’s boot had provided the Bulls with repeat sets, first from a 40/20 then his grubber was cleared for another scrum near the try line. Olbinson capitalised when he dived over from dummy half from close range to snatch the lead. Danny Addy thought he had done similar moments later but was judged to have dropped the ball over the line by the video referee.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Brian McDermott’s men displayed their impressive handling ability as they kept the ball alive near the try-line, before Achurch collect Sinfield’s offload to dive over and level the scores.
Both sides exchanged chances to break the deadlock before half-time as momentum swung back and forth. Sinfield peppered the Bradford back three with his kicking game, but Kearney and Kear in particular stood firm in the face of such aerial bombardment. Both defences held solid despite the ferocity of the attack, the pace of the game seemingly having little effect on fitness levels as the teams went into the break level.
The second half began with a slower tempo than the first, as both sides sought to win the proverbial arm wrestle in the middle of the field. The equilibrium was burst when Jamie Peacock barged over from short range for his first ever try against his former club.
The pace of the game picked up after the try to the blistering levels it had reached in the first half. Both sets of outside backs came infield to take the ball in to relieve the pressure from the forwards who ran their blood to water for the cause. Behind the tiring packs, Sinfield and Sammut exhibited their fine array of tactical kicking as both halfbacks sought to pin the opposition deep in their own half to build pressure.
Bradford’s possession advantage culminated in a goal line drop out just after the hour mark, which was compounded when Kevin Sinfield was ruled to have knocked on as he attempted to re-gather his own short drop kick. The Bulls couldn’t turn the territory into tries, but they were piling on the pressure on their arch rivals, who began to show signs of fatigue.
Passions reached boiling point on the 70th minute when Delaney and Bailey took exception to Whitehead’s tackle on Jones-Buchanan. The Rhinos hitmen went after the back-rower and fists flew in from all angles as players ran in to get involved. Bailey took the very next drive in from the resulting penalty, which saw him clash heads with Nick Scruton. Tempers continued to flare when Peacock was penalised for use of the elbow, an action that relieved the pressure that had suddenly been piled on the Bulls line from the previous penalties.
A swinging arm from Bailey gifted Bradford field position from a penalty as the clock ticked down. The Bulls put the ball wide through hands but the Leeds defence flew out of the blocks in numbers to halt their progress before Sammut’s grubber into the in-goal area forced another drop out that lead to the dramatic set that saw Bradford draw level.
Leeds: Watkins, Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey
Replacements: Kirke, Ward, Moore, Achurch
T: Watkins, Achurch, Peacock
G: Sinfield 3
Bradford: Kearney, Kear, Purtell, Lulia, Foster, Addy, Sammut, Scruton,
Diskin, Manuokafoa, Olbison, Whitehead, Walker
Replacements: Langley, L’Estrange, Bateman, Sidlow
T: Purtell, Olbinson, Sidlow
G: Foster 3
Referee: Phil Bentham
RLFans Man of the Match: Elliot Whitehead (Bradford Bulls)