One of Superleague’s fiercest rivalries was reignited at the Emerald Headingley Stadium this afternoon as the Leeds Rhinos took on the Bradford Bulls in a pre-season friendly match, the inaugural Keith Howard Foundation Trophy.
Mark Dunning´s side had a tough task ahead as Leeds coach Rohan Smith named a side with a blend of youth and experienced as he continued to tinker with the fringes of his squad after last weekend´s defeat to the Leigh Leopards. The Bulls outing last weekend against the Huddersfield Giants fell foul of the big freeze, so this was a final opportunity ahead of their start to the regular season against Whitehaven next Sunday.
The ground in front of the Western Terrace looked more like a sandpit than a rugby field as the two sides took to the field on a cold winter afternoon.
The Rhinos had first use of the football and at the end of the opening six had made ninety metres and immediately forced an error to retain possession, but the Bradford defence managed to hold firm for the resulting six to deny the home side.
It was all Leeds early on and with just over five minutes on the clock Leon Ruan found a gap in the Bulls defence after taking a Richie Myler pass to jog in from twenty metres. Rhyse Martin used the wing to float his kick over the bar for a 6-0 lead.
On eleven Rhyse Martin was sin-binned for a late tackle of the Bradford kicker and after the early setback the Bulls started to find their feet. On fifteen minutes Joe Arundal took a short pass from Jack Walker to go through a gap from five metres out. Declan Patton couldn´t add the extras from wide, the Bulls still two behind.
The twelve men went in for their second as Morgan Gannon took a no-look pass from Sam Walters to walk home through a massive gap in the Bulls defence. Cameron Smith added the conversion and Leeds were 12-4 ahead as the game reached the midway point of the first half.
Bradford thought they were on for their second on twenty-five, but referee Vella ruled a forward pass and scratched the try off.
Handling errors from the Rhinos saw them spurn several good opportunities and it was another poor pass from Myler which led to the third Leeds try. The Rhinos half back was on hand to take the final pass and go in under the sticks after Joe Gibbons had picked up his initial wayward ball and broke downfield before passing to the supporting Ash Handley ten out from the line who then offloaded under the tackle of the full-back. Martin was again on target with the boot for a half time score of 18-4.
In Leeds opening attack of the second half, after regaining possession from a short kick-off, Liam Tindall was held up over the line off an expansive move.
The second-half breakthrough came on forty-six with Joe Gibbons taking an inside pass to go over from a few metres and drop over the line. Jack Sinfield adding the extras for 24-4.
Leeds should have been further ahead, but Luis Roberts made an awful error in the act of scoring on fifty-six, dropping the ball when unopposed over the Bulls line.
George Flanagan (Snr) made the most of a ricochet on the Leeds line as he collected the loose ball and crawled over the line on his knees to score. His son George added the extras for 24-10, the Bulls on second half parity with the Rhinos.
Flanagan (Jnr) had a try ruled out with four minutes remaining after referee Vella ruled another Bulls knock-on, the last try scoring opportunity as the Rhinos held on for the win.
It was a good run out for the Rhinos who showed that Rohan Smith hadn´t wasted the winter in planning their tactics for the forthcoming season as they played an expansive game and exploited the short kick off on multiple occasions. Despite the loss it was no disgrace for the Bulls who had their moments, particularly in defence, and who have a platform to build on for the start of their Championship season next weekend.
Leeds Rhinos: Handley, Tindall, Edwards, Martin (2G, SB on 11), Roberts, Myler (T), Gannon (T), Lisone, O´Connor, Walters, McDonnell, Ruan (T), Smith (G). Subs: Holroyd, Donaldson, Field, Sinfield (G), Gibbons (T), Edgell, Nicholson-Watson.
Bradford Bulls: Walker, Blackmore, Arundel (T), Gill, Foggin-Johnston, Holmes, Patton, Foster, Lilley, Rogers, Wallace, Thompson, Butler. Subs: Flanagan JR (G), Myers, Green, Lawford, Flanagan (T), Clarke, Roby, Johnson, Barraclough.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, 10-4, 12-4, 16-4, 18-4 : HT : 22-4, 24-4, 24-8, 24-10 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leeds.
Referee: James Vella.