THE GOOD times returned to Odsal as the stadium’s first five-figure crowd since 2014 witnessed an unsurprising shock result and two clubs heading in opposite directions.
Though they were promoted from League One last year, Bradford Bulls fans have had little to cheer since the club dropped out of Super League five years ago.
A quarter-final appearance in the Challenge Cup will put the fallen giants back on the rugby league map and the bonus is it was achieved against their nearest and fiercest rivals, Leeds Rhinos.
Bulls’ 24-22 victory, watched by a gate of 10,258 and a national television audience, was an upset in that Super League teams should not lose to opponents from the Championship, but given Leeds’ dismal form this year and at the end of a week in which their head coach Dave Furner was shown the door, it was not totally unexpected.
Another factor in Bradford’s favour was their coach John Kear, who added another Cup upset to his remarkable record in the competition which already included victories in the final with Sheffield Eagles 21 years ago and Hull, against Leeds, in 2005.
Kear is a master of preparing teams for a big game and he had clearly worked out Leeds’ weaknesses, but his players still had to go out and exploit them and in that they rose to the occasion magnificently.
Bulls were far more enthusiastic than the Super League side, made fewer telling errors, had better discipline and defended as though the result really meant something.Peter Smith
Man for man, as poor as Leeds have been this year, Bradford should have been outclassed, but they were the better team on the day and deserved victors.
Bulls were far more enthusiastic than the Super League side, made fewer telling errors, had better discipline and defended as though the result really meant something.
They kept their heads after going behind early on and stood firm when Leeds put them under pressure in the second half. It was a huge effort from a team which included part-time players and had been beaten in Toronto a week earlier.
Three of Bradford’s side, Jordan Lilley, Sam Hallas and Elliot Minchella, came through the Rhinos youth system to the first-team squad, but were then deemed not good enough.
Half-back Lilley is actually on loan at Bulls from Leeds and has been told he will not be offered a new Rhinos contract when his current deal expires in the autumn.
He, in particular, had a point to prove and almost inevitably was named man of the match, but it was an outstanding collective effort by the second tier side. They took their chances and Bulls’ pack outmuscled Leeds’ forwards.
Rhinos, in contrast, were 17 individuals who played without spirit, desire and common sense.
After a good start they began shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary errors and appalling ill-discipline and, as has happened to them frequently this year, when things began to go wrong they collapsed.
From 12-4 up, Leeds allowed Bradford to score 18 unanswered points and take a 22-14 interval lead. Tui Lolohea and teenage half Callum Mclelland touched down either side of a try by Dalton Grant, but then Jake Webster, Sam Hallas and Mikey Wood crossed for Bradford and Rowan Milnes kicked two conversions and a penalty.
Liam Sutcliffe added a penalty to his two conversions before the break and Rhinos scored the only two tries of the second half, through Harry Newman and Tom Briscoe, but a Milnes penalty goal in the final quarter proved the difference.
Rhinos might have sent the tie at least into extra time had Sutcliffe’s kick following Briscoe’s try not bounced away off an upright, but that would have been an injustice. It was Rhinos’ 11th defeat in 16 competitive games this year and unless they can find considerable improvement they are in real danger of joining Bradford in the Championship next season.
Bradford Bulls: Ryan, Grant, Webster, Oakes, Foggin-Johnston, Lilley, Milnes, Kirk, Hallas, Crossley, Minchella, Farrell, Wood. Substitutes: Wildie, Green, Peltier, Storton.
Leeds Rhinos: Lolohea, T Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, Handley, L Sutcliffe, McLelland, Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Peteru, Smith, Watkins, Merrin. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Parcell, Oledzki, Albert.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).