lIGHTNING does strike twice. The venue and teams – and even the referee – were the same and so was the result and manner of it.
Four years after Leeds Rhinos pipped Bradford Bulls in the most controversial game in engage Super League history, they did it again – in a Millennium Stadium clash which was only slightly less contentious.
Out-played for 63 minutes by a very good, new-look Bradford side, Rhinos scored four late tries in a devastating spell to snatch the game from the fire.
It was similar to last year, when a dramatic late fightback stunned Wakefield at Murrayfield Magic.
The winner came two minutes from time and – as in 2007 – it hinged on a call by the video referee.
Leeds were trailing by two when Kallum Watkins’ sensational pass sent Ben Jones-Bishop into space on the right wing.
Jones-Bishop – preferred in the side to Lee Smith – kicked ahead, began to chase and was taken out by Gareth Raynor.
Referee Steve Ganson asked video official Richard Silverwood’s advice. He awarded a penalty try and Kevin Sinfield’s kick from in front of the posts completed the scoring at 32-28.
It was a sensational end to a terrific game, but so tough on Bulls. Had he not been obstructed, the speedy and talented Jones-Bishop would surely have scored and it was the right ruling.
But a penalty – which Sinfield would probably have landed to square the scores – would have been a fairer outcome.
Just as controversially, before Leeds’ fightback began Bradford had two touchdowns ruled out by Silverwood.
First he decided Elliott Whitehead had knocked on from a Brett Kearney kick before Patrick Ah Van got the ball down.
Then Chev Walker crossed after his hack on had rebounded off Jones-Bishop. Silverwood reckoned the Bradford man had knocked on, though it looked a good try.
Had Bradford scored then they’d have been at least 22 points up with less than 20 minutes left and there would have been no way back for Leeds. Rhinos’ rally was magnificent and their never-say-die spirit saw them home, but Bradford were better in many aspects.
Despite fielding nine debutants, to Leeds’ one, Bulls looked the more cohesive unit and they made fewer errors.
They offloaded well, the kicking game was outstanding – all Whitehead’s hat-trick of tries coming off the boot – and they made clever use of an extra man early in the game, scoring two tries with Leeds centre Brett Delaney in the sin-bin.
Old-boy Matt Diskin was among Bulls’ try scorers, nipping over from acting-half at the start of the second half, to cap a strong Bradford debut.
Diskin was one of five ex-Leeds players in the Bulls line-up, alongside fellow recruits Walker, Raynor and Kyle Briggs, plus Nick Scruton.
Leeds were 4-0 ahead when Delaney was banished, thanks to Jones-Bishop’s excellent finish from a looping pass by Brent Webb, who was good throughout.
But before they had the chance to build on the good start, Delaney took out a Bulls player off the ball and went for a 10-minute rest.
Three minutes later Briggs kicked through and Whitehead read it perfectly to touch down.
With Delaney waiting to come back on, Brett Kearney tried the same trick and again Whitehead profited.
Walker then knocked on over the Leeds line in Jones-Bishop’s tackle, but seconds after that Ah Van raced 80 metres to score after snapping up Webb’s pass.
On 32 minutes Rob Burrow teased the defence before feeding Keith Senior, whose pass was powerfully finished by Ryan Hall, over the top of Briggs’ attempted block.
On the stroke of half-time, Olivier Elima picked the ball up in an offside position 30 metres from his own line.
He was pulled down just short by Jones-Bishop anyway and when everybody trudged back, Sinfield landed the goal to make it 16-10 at the break.
Diskin’s try snatched the momentum back, then Whitehead completed his hat-trick from a kick by Kearney, which seemed to have put the game beyond Leeds.
With 17 minutes left, Kallum Watkins put Jones-Bishop over. Sinfield missed his third touchline conversion attempt, but seconds later Danny Buderus made a break and turned the ball inside to Webb, who hacked on and Kylie Leuluai touched down ahead of Kearney, Sinfield goaling after Silverwood had given the green light.
With Diskin now a Bull and no hooker on the bench, Buderus played the full 80 and was a key figure in Rhinos’ comeback.
The third late try came when Burrow’s dummy fooled the defence from 40 metres out; Sinfield’s conversion cut the gap to just two and the last-gasp drama was almost inevitable.
The penalty count finished 12-11 in Leeds’ favour and Ganson had a decent game on his return to Super League.
This was a good two points for Rhinos, particularly after being 18 points adrift, but there’s still much work to be done, with kick defence being a priority.
Bradford Bulls: Royston, Ah Van, Platt, Walker, Raynor, Briggs, Kearney, Lynch, L’Estrange, Hargreaves, Elima, Whitehead, Langley. Subs (all used) Diskin, Scruton, Kopczak, Sibbit.
Tries: Whitehead 3, Ah Van, Diskin.
Goals: Ah Van 4.
Leeds Rhinos: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Delaney, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Cross, Jones-Buchanan, Lauitiiti, Ablett. Subs (all used: Burgess, Kirke, Pitts, Watkins.
Tries: Jones-Bishop 3 (1 penalty try), Hall, Burrow, Leuluai.
Referee: Steve Ganson (St Helens).