TWELVE YEARS ago today, Leeds Rhinos fans were daring to dream.
Rhinos were in search of top spot on the Super League table and their first championship since 1972.
After numerous false dawns, many of Leeds’ long-standing fans had spent the season trying to keep expectations in check, but a 40-12 home win over defending champions Bradford Bulls left them within touching distance of the league leaders’ shield.
Second-placed Hull suffered a shock loss at Castleford earlier in the afternoon, so Rhinos went into their home derby knowing a win over Bradford – who were third – would open a seven-point gap at the top of the table with only four league games remaining.
There was bad feeling in the background ahead of the match. Leeds had made it known they were keen on signing Bulls captain Jamie Peacock, while the Odsal outfit had brought Iestyn Harris – who Rhinos claimed had an agreement to rejoin them – back into rugby league from Welsh union side Cardiff.
A huge crowd of 21,225 turned up to witness the Sunday-evening action and the majority of them were cheering a Leeds try after less than a minute.
Wayne McDonald and Willie Poching carved open Bradford’s defence, enabling Danny McGuire to cross – and Leeds never looked back.
Chris McKenna and Ali Lauitiiti went over and Kevin Sinfield converted all three to give the hosts an 18-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Bulls held out until six minutes before the break, but two tries – to McGuire and McKenna – sent Leeds in with a 26-0 advantage.
Marcus Bai continued Rhinos’ charge soon after half-time, but Bulls avoided a whitewash when Logan Swann crossed.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan ran in Leeds’ final try 17 minutes from time and the last word went to Harris, who scored a late consolation touchdown against his former club.
Sinfield finished with five conversions and a penalty and Paul Deacon improved both Bulls’ tries.
Leeds boss Tony Smith likened the situation in Super League to the Olympics, which were underway in Athens.
“It’s like the heats,” he said. “Everybody’s qualifying to see if they can get to the finals.
“We’re playing consistently, but we’ve got to keep our foot down and keep going.”
Leeds Rhinos 40
(Tries: McGuire 2, McKenna 2, Lauitiiti, Bai, Jones-Buchanan. Goals: Sinfield 6)
Bradford Bulls 12 (Tries: Swann, Harris. Goals: Deacon 2)
Super League August 22, 2004
Leeds Rhinos: Mathers, Walker, McKenna, Senior, Bai, Sinfield, McGuire, Ward, Diskin, McDonald, Adamson, Lauitiiti, Poching. Subs Burrow, McDermott, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan.
Bradford Bulls: Reardon, Withers, Pryce, Hape, Vainikolo, Harris, Deacon, Fielden, Paul, Parker, Peacock, Swann, Radford. Subs Pratt, Johnson, Langley, Moore.
Referee: Karl Kirkpatrick.