It was Walker’s first game since November 1, 2020 and he looked much sharper than might have been expected after such a long lay-off.
The full-back, who has undergone surgery twice on a foot injury suffered 23 months ago, dipped a shoulder and got close to Bulls’ line a couple of times, almost created a try with a long pass and forced a drop out with an enthusiastic chase to nail a defender in-goal.
The initial plan was for him to play 40 minutes, but he came back out for the opening 13 of the second period before being given a rest.
Sutcliffe was back from a knee problem which ended his 2021 season a couple of months early and got through a solid workout; playing at stand-off, he looked a bit rusty, but showed some nice touches early on.
Rhinos’ starting side were all from the full-time squad but, other than Bodene Thompson and Oli Field, the bench was made up mainly of players out of the lower grades: reserves Mackenzie Turner, Joe Hird and Joe Gibbons and academy duo Kai Morgan and Alfie Edgell.
All the youngsters got on and did well, with Morgan scoring a good try late in the game.
Thompson - now with a shaven head - was introduced a lot earlier than would have been planned, replacing Alex Mellor who went off for a head injury assessment.
The former Bradford man returned later in the first half, but then Leeds lost Sam Walters - being tried out at prop - to a shoulder issue and he did not return.
At the end of the first half a high tackle on Jack Sinfield, who played the full 80, sparked a mass brawl and led to yellow cards for Rhinos prop Muizz Mustapha and Bulls winger Matty Dawson-Jones.
Judging from the tough stance taken by the match review panel so far in pre-season, both are likely to get a ban, which will hurt Bradford more than Leeds as Mustapha is due to join them on loan. A host of other players who ran in could also be in hot water.
The difference in the first half was Bulls took their chances and Rhinos, who were poor, didn’t.
Between Bradford’s tries on five and 29 minutes, Leeds did most of the attacking, forcing a series of drop-outs, but weren’t able to get the ball down over the line and they made too many errors.
Rhyse Martin caused Bulls problems on Leeds’ right and was held up early on and Liam Tindall was tackled just short from a long pass by Walker.
Bulls’ first-half tries both came in sets after Levi Edwards, playing on the right-wing, spilled kicks from Dec Patton.
After the first error, Rhinos managed to hold David Foggin-Johnston up over the line, but Kieran Gill crossed a couple of plays later off a pass by Patton, who then booted the first of his two conversions.
On the half hour, Rhinos’ defence did well to hold George Flanagan up, but then Edwards’ fumble led to a Bulls penalty for offside and, following that, Rhyse Evans ran on to a clever grubber by Billy Jowitt. Along with loose-forward Jordan Baldwinson, Evans was one of two players in Bradford’s ranks to have played in Super League for Leeds.
Jowitt is a recent Rhinos academy graduate, as are his Bulls team-mates Joe Burton, AJ Wallace and Coby Nichol.
There were numerous changes by both teams after the interval and Leeds’ youngsters stepped up to play some good rugby as Bulls’ discipline went to pieces. Max Simpson in particular impressed, running in a couple of well-taken tries.
Along with Mustapha and Corey Johnson - who had a good game and played the full 80 - Jarrod O’Connor is another of the Leeds players made available to Bulls on loan.
In the opening seconds of the second half, he made a blistering break up the middle of the field and Mellor was in support to score at the corner, beginning 40 minutes of Leeds dominance. Martin landed a touchline conversion and then levelled the scores after Simpson showed impressive pace to scorch over for Leeds’ second try.
Rhinos were now testing Bulls’ defence and they struck again on 54 minutes through Tindall, from a terrific pass by Sinfield, with Martin again adding the difficult kick.
With 10 minutes left, Morgan spotted a gap and forced his way over from close range and Sinfield’s kick made it 24-12.
Moments later, Rhinos moved the ball from right to left and Simpson stepped inside for a well-taken touchdown, which Sinfield improved to complete the scoring.
With a motorsport track now back in place around the Odsal pitch - and the chilly January weather - there was a 1980s/90s vibe around what Bulls had billed as ‘the Big One’. Adding to that, Rhinos’ 20 included three sons of ex-Leeds Super League players. Starting scrum-half Sinfield’s father Kevin was a veteran of some huge clashes between the sides when the Rhinos-Bulls rivalry was at its height a couple of decades ago.
Field’s father Jamie and Gibbons’ dad Dave both played for Leeds early in the summer era.
Bradford Bulls: Kear, Dawson-Jones, Evans, Gill, Foggin-Johnson, Jowitt, Patton, Walker, Flanagan, Crossley, Murphy, Scott, Baldwinson. Subs Scurr, Burton, Ho, Wallace, Myers, Arundel, Camden, Forshaw, Mail, Nichol.
Leeds Rhinos: J Walker, Broadbent, Simpson, Tindall, Sutcliife, Sinfield, Walters, Johnson, Mustapha, Mellor,Martin, O’Connor. Subs Thjompson, Turner, Hird, Gibbons, Field, Morgan, Edgell.
Referee: Aaron Moore (Wigan).
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