Leeds fought back from 18 points down to defeat local rivals Bradford in a gripping finale at the Millennium Stadium.
Bulls forward Elliott Whitehead claimed a hat-trick of tries, all off kicks, as his side opened up a 28-10 advantage, but the Rhinos didn’t give up, and their remarkable comeback was completed when a penalty try was given with just two minutes on the clock.
Bradford took full advantage. A nicely weighted kick by Kyle Briggs taking advantage of the large in-goal area, enabled Whitehead to race in and skilfully pick up the ball and ground for their first try under the leadership of Mick Potter.
Before Delaney had returned to the field, Chev Walker was unfortunate not to extend Bradford’s lead, when he lost the ball on impact with Jones-Bishop over the line.
With parity restored, Leeds started to get on the front foot but they were pegged back when Patrick Ah Van snaffled Webb’s long cut out pass and just about managed to out pace Ryan Hall in their 80m dash to the line.
But the Rhinos managed to at least give themselves a foothold ahead of the second half when Hall crossed for a try of his own, before Kevin Sinfield‘s penalty right on the hooter reduced arrears to 16-10 at the break.
Former Leeds hooker Matt Diskin, who enjoyed a testimonial year at Headingley last year, got the second half underway with a try for his new club, darting from dummy half to take advantage of an unset Leeds defence to score, and when Whitehead pounced to claim his third try, once again off a kick from Kearney, it looked like Bradford had done enough.
However, the Rhinos didn’t win three consecutive Super League titles for nothing, and they started a revival through Jones-Bishop. Briggs was adjudged to have knocked down Webb’s pass out wide, and from the scrum, Leeds sweeped the ball out wide for the young winger to cross for his second try.
With momentum on their side, Leeds then got a stroke of luck to get themselves right in the game. A loose pass was hooked on by the boot of Webb, and after much deliberation, the video referee judged that Kylie Leuluai had beaten Kearney to ground the ball over the try line. Sinfield goaled from under the sticks to make it 28-20.
As Bradford tired, Leeds started to attack the line with more vigour, and Rob Burrow exploited the fringes, dummying through down the left hand side to move his side within a score.
And as the clock ticked on, Bradford just couldn’t keep the Rhinos at bay, and when Jones-Bishop hacked on down the right, Gareth Raynor couldn’t help but bring his opposite number down. With the ball begging to be touched down over the whitewash, the video referee was given virtually no choice but to award a penalty try, and Leeds’ comeback was complete.
Bradford: Royston, Raynor, Platt, Walker, Ah Van, Kearney, Briggs, Lynch, L’Estrange, Hargreaves, Elima, Whitehead, Langley. Subs: Scruton, Kopczak, Diskin, Sibbit.
Tries: Whitehead 12, 19, 53, Ah Van 25, Diskin 43
Goals: Ah Van 12, 19, 43, 53
Leeds: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Senior, Delaney, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Cross, Lauitiiti, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett. Subs: Watkins, Burgess, Kirke, Pitts.
Tries: Jones-Bishop 5, 63, Hall 32, Leuluai 65, Burrow 69. Penalty try.
Goals: Sinfield 40, 65, 69, 78.