Gareth Ellis: Return of Bradford-Leeds fixture evokes some derby memories

IT WILL be great to see the old Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls rivalry renewed this week.

Flashback to Bradford Bull v Leeds Rhinos games.

They play each other in the Challenge Cup at Odsal on Saturday and it is understandable why people are looking forward to it so much.

Obviously, I’ve played in that fixture. My first year at Leeds Rhinos was 2005 and the Bradford-Leeds derbies then were the big games.

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At that time, we were winning more often than we were losing and it was the one to look forward to. You have both stadiums – Headingley and Odsal – packed out with a really good atmosphere and both teams obviously were at the top of their game back then. They were almost Cup final-like games to look forward to in the fixture list when I went to Leeds. It was always something to look forward to. Leeds had just won the Grand Final – beating Bradford – in 2004 when I arrived at Rhinos and then, obviously, we went on to play in both finals in 2005, my first year.

But we lost both, losing the Challenge Cup to Hull and then the Grand Final against Bulls.

Bradford had a bit of a story that year. A lot of players were leaving at the end of it – JP (Jamie Peacock), Leon (Pryce), Robbie Paul and Radders (Lee Radford) as well.

They had had a bit of a tough run but came good towards the end. There was a lot of emotion surrounding that Old Trafford final for them. For me, it was just my first-ever Grand Final so maybe the cards were always on the table for that one with so many good players leaving Bulls.

It’s sad to see what has happened to Bradford when you think of what they brought to Super League around that time and before.

To see them go all the way down to League 1 before getting back into the Championship now, it is tough. It’s nice to see them making strides again.

It’s funny thinking how everything goes full circle and every dog has its day; if you’d have said to me back in ’05 that Bulls – one of the most dominant teams of the summer era – would be where they are now I just wouldn’t have believed it.

I think Bradford will fancy their chances Saturday. Leeds are not the team they were back in 2005 either. You would think Leeds would just have too much quality to get over the line and I’m sure they’ll be confident of doing that.

But they lost again on Friday and it probably won’t be as clear-cut as some think.

There will be some emotion again and some build-up – the return of that derby fixture for the first time in five years, live on the Beeb – and I imagine there will be plenty of replays of games gone-by on social media.

There’s always plenty at stake – there always is when it’s the Challenge Cup – but more so because of that rivalry.

Going back to the early days when I was at Wakefield I faced people like Stuart Fielden, JP, Lee Gilmour and Logan Swann all at the top of their game.

They had superstar internationals right across the board so it was always a big challenge. But, having been on the back of a few hidings from Bradford at Wakefield, it was nice to go to Leeds and be competing, challenging – and beating them more often than not.