Leeds Rhinos 24 Bradford Bulls 24
After the dust settled on a typical blood and thunder derby between these old rivals, it was hard not to feel optimistic about what lies ahead in 2013.
The Bulls were full of creativity and ideas thanks to a half-back pairing of Jarrod Sammut and Brett Kearney, who both claimed two tries apiece.
Nick Scruton showed further glimpses of his best form, not least with the pass that sent Kearney over for his first try, and Matt Diskin provided skill and authority around the ruck.
Adam Sidlow and Manase Manuokafoa, the Bulls’ only other two props, were similarly impressive up front again as Leeds were forced to come from behind to claim a share of the spoils.
In fact, the reigning Super League and World Club champions never led all afternoon.
It took a typically opportunistic late score from Danny McGuire to spare the Rhinos the indignity of being beaten in his own testimonial match.
Of course, results matter little in pre-season, but performances most certainly do.
Francis Cummins emphatically got one yesterday on his first return to Headingley as the Bulls' head coach.
Leeds versus Bradford, regardless of what is at stake, is always a fixture to increase the heartbeat.
Both teams did the rivalry proud yesterday.
The Bulls were missing Heath L’Estrange and Jamie Langley but James Donaldson made a welcome return after almost a year on the sidelines.
Rookie Jobe Murphy, 20, looked capable of holding his own at the highest level with another tenacious display off the bench.
The Bulls opened the scoring inside the second minute when Sammut collected possession ten metres out and showed delightful skill to stab a grubber behind a statuesque Leeds defender and touch down in front of the Bulls supporters.
Jamie Foster added the conversion but the Bulls, sporting their new away kit, found themselves under the cosh after conceding back-to-back penalties.
Driven forward by former Bulls star Jamie Peacock, Leeds asked some serious questions of the visiting defence.
Bradford refused to buckle, though, and stretched their lead in the seventh minute thanks to another fine piece of opportunism from Sammut.
Leeds full back Zak Hardaker failed to deal with a kick into the right corner and uncharacteristically spilled the ball into the path of Sammut, who scampered over from close range.
Foster converted in style again to put the Bulls 12-0 up and in control.
Cummins knows only too well that Leeds never lie down, though, and they quickly fashioned a measured response. Encouragingly, the Bulls relished the physical battle and Michael Platt made his presence felt with an implacable challenge on Carl Ablett.
Midway through the opening period, Kevin Sinfield embarked on a searing break from inside his own half, evading the lunging challenge of Tom Olbison to race 50 metres and find Hardaker inside the right channel.
Hardaker’s pass to Joe Vickery went horribly into touch and from the next set the Bulls went upfield before Diskin’s penalty tap found Scruton, whose delicate offload sent Kearney racing over the line from ten metres out.
It was a fine score and celebrated with the kind of gusto that said much for the spirit within this Bulls team.
The Bradford fans behind the posts were loving it, but nine minutes before the break Leeds finally claimed their first try when Ablett broke and found McGuire inside the left channel.
The Leeds legend clipped a perfect kick into the path of the onrushing Joe Vickery, who collected possession to touch down despite Platt’s attention.
Sinfield missed the conversion but the Rhinos continued to probe and were rewarded again moments later when some fine handling stretched Bradford to breaking point as Kallum Watkins sent Vickery over in the right corner for his second.
Sinfield again failed to add the extras and the first half ended 18-8 to the Bulls.
Adam O’Brien replaced Diskin at the break but Sinfield almost muscled his way through before Matty Blythe halted his progress with a fine tackle.
Kearney switched to full back and Foster to the wing after Addy partnered Sammut in the halves.
Leeds replied through Rob Burrow midway through the second half when Chris Clarkson sent him racing clear but Kearney soon weaved his way over for his second.
Foster’s conversion put Bradford 24-14 up but Burrow sent Ryan Hall over before McGuire’s support play took him in the left channel for a try which Sinfield converted to level the scores.
Leeds: Hardaker 6, Vickery 7, Watkins 7, Moon 6, Hall 6, McGuire 7, Sinfield 7, Kirke 6, Burrow 7, Peacock 7, Jones-Buchanan 6, Delaney 6, Ablett 6. Subs: McShane 7, Bailey 6, Achurch 7, Clarkson 7, Griffin 6.
Bulls: Foster 6, Kear 6, Blythe 7, Lulia 7, Platt 6, Kearney 8, Sammut 8, Scruton 8, Diskin 7, Manuokafoa 7, Olbison 7, Whitehead 7, Walker 6. Subs: Sidlow 7, O’Brien 6, Murphy 7, Addy 6, Donaldson 6.