Battling Bulls are beaten by ruthless Rhinos

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Leeds Rhinos 34 Bradford Bulls 16

WHILE Bradford Bulls’ players continued to produce sterling efforts in the face of adversity last night, events surrounding the financially-crippled club off the field were distinctly opaque following an alarming twist to their delicate situation.

Super League champions Leeds Rhinos ended their rivals’ three-match winning run with a victory which required far more effort and resilience than the scoreline suggests, not least when they protected their line immaculately during captain Kevin Sinfield’s spell in the sin-bin.

But, obviously, key for Bradford is their bid to avoid being liquidated next Friday.

Although administrator Brendan Guilfoyle had given them a pre-match boost on Thursday by declaring the ABC consortium had made a bid – albeit conditional – it confusingly emerged yesterday a formal offer has not yet actually been received.

“The RFL have today held constructive talks with the administrator of Bradford Bulls at a meeting in Leeds,” a RFL spokesman told the Yorkshire Post last night.

“The governing body remains in regular contact with the administrator and will be holding further meetings next week.

“The administrator today informed the RFL that he has not yet received a formal written offer for Bradford Bulls but continues to speak to interested parties.”

Good news for Bradford, however, is that they have had a stay of execution with regards to their points deduction for breaking insolvency rules.

The RFL board of directors was yesterday expected to rule on that but, encouragingly, a decision has been deferred until the details of any written offer are revealed.

On the field, the likes of scheming scrum-half Luke Gale and strong-running second-row Elliott Whitehead did their utmost to inspire another famous win to edge above their West Yorkshire neighbours into fifth spot.

However, Leeds, fresh from their Challenge Cup semi-final win over Wigan, had just enough class via the silky skills of two-try centre Kallum Watkins and the increasingly impressive young back-row Stevie Ward, to keep them at bay.

They were aided by erring Bradford stand-off Jarrod Sammut who endured three nightmare moments which led – directly or indirectly – to as many Leeds scores.

A huge travelling support, many having taken up Leeds’s generous offer to gift ticket proceeds to their fighting fund, contributed to the champions’ biggest gate of the season – 18,520 – as improving Leeds completed a sixth successive win.

Bradford did take the lead in the fourth minute with a try that perfectly illustrated their current willingness to ignore all their woe and just attack from anywhere.

Gale’s ingenuity inside his own half created a gap for Brett Kearney to sear into and the full-back soon found Michael Platt in support; he drew Zak Hardaker and sent Whitehead powering to the line.

Gale converted and the visitors continued to show plenty of ambition with the ball, favouring to off-load whenever possible and causing no little problems for the Leeds defence.

Some punishing defence added to the hosts’ uneasiness, Bryn Hargreaves perhaps going a little overboard as he challenged Ryan Bailey at the play-the-ball.

But Brian McDermott’s side, who later lost Brett Delaney with a dislocated thumb, soon found their own rhythm. A typically darting run from Rob Burrow looked like it had provided Jamie Jones-Buchanan with their opening try but it was ruled out for a marginally forward pass.

However, when Sammut committed the cardinal sin of missing touch with a penalty, the champions struck.

Ward, the teenage back-row who this week both signed a five-year deal at Headingley and sacrificed a place on the England Academy tour of Australia, cut a lovely line to initially break through.

Supporting Danny McGuire, who scored five tries when Leeds defeated Bradford in their last meeting at Magic Weekend, was hauled down by Karl Pryce just short but in the next play Sinfield found Hardaker and the full-back held his pass just long enough to give Watkins a simple walk-in.

Sinfield improved the 20th-minute score and they should have inflicted further damage when, first, a rampaging Jones-Buchanan was denied and then Bailey spilled while trying to barge over.

Sammut was denied a chance to atone when – after making the original break – his supporting effort was ruled out for a forward pass from Pryce.

But it was early in the second period when the Australian’s misery was compounded.

Firstly, he knocked on and Hardaker’s flat pass had Watkins angling perfectly for his second, and then a lack of communication between him and Pryce resulted in Hardaker’s kick being spilled, gifting Shaun Lunt a simple 100th career try.

Bradford responded well as Leeds’s discipline was found wanting but they lacked the composure required to punish an excellent defensive line.

Sinfield was yellow-carded as he tackled Hargreaves without the ball in front of the posts, denying the prop a clear try off Gale’s slipperiness.

However, 12-man Leeds rallied magnificently to continually thwart their opponents’ best efforts and, indeed, increased their lead when McGuire and Kylie Leuluai combined for Hardaker to score.

He improved and ironically, moments after Sinfield’s return, Bradford did finally barge over via Olivier Elima, Gale converting.

Pryce added another towards the finish but his effort was sandwiched by two more Leeds scores when Bradford twice dropped possession close to their own line, McGuire and Sinfield benefiting.

Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Delaney, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Bailey. Substitutes: Kirke, Griffin, Moore, Lunt.

Bradford Bulls: Kearney; Ainscough, Platt, Lulia, Pryce; Sammut, Gale; Manuokafoa, L’Estrange, Hargreaves, Elima, Whitehead, Langley. Substitutes:O’Brien, Olbison, Burgess, Walker.

Referee: Steve Ganson (St Helens).

Utility back Lee Smith, a three-times Grand Final winner with Leeds Rhinos, has completed a deal with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats until the end of 2013.