Bulls 22, Leeds Rhinos 42
Francis Cummins’ team had matched Leeds blow for blow in a classic 18-18 draw at Headingley six weeks ago.
Last night they were left on the ropes after being blown away during an exhilarating opening 40 minutes from the champions.
Brian McDermott’s men ran in five first-half tries to lead 30-6 at the break in a display which simply oozed class.
Leeds were too strong, too vibrant and, above all, too quick for the Bulls as they powered to their sixth straight victory.
The Rhinos’ teamwork was peerless, their conviction unshakeable.
This is a team, of course, that has been crowned Super League champions five times in the past six seasons.
Kallum Watkins scored a breathtaking long-range effort to open the scoring but the way Leeds kept the ball alive to create a second try for Mitch Achurch was equally admirable.
Although outclassed by a genuinely great side, the Bulls never threw in the towel.
Far from it, in fact.
They hit back before the break with a try from replacement Ben Evans and second-half scores by Elliot Kear (2) and Brett Kearney restored more than a semblance of respectability and pride.
But further Leeds tries from Zak Hardaker and Carl Ablett again served as further reminders of Leeds’ quality on a chastening night.
The Bulls were dealt a blow before kick-off when John Bateman was ruled out after failing to recover from the wrist injury he sustained at Warrington last weekend.
That meant Tom Olbison was recalled in the second row but the real big news came with the return of Matty Blythe.
The on-loan Warrington man was handed a starting berth at right centre, prompting Adrian Purtell to be switched to the wing.
Leeds were bolstered by the return of fiery forward Ryan Bailey after a four-match ban following his recent dismissal at Catalan Dragons.
He replaced highly-rated 19-year-old Stevie Ward, who dislocated a shoulder in last weekend’s win to rule him out for up to four months.
A glance at the Rhinos’ teamsheet before kick-off confirmed the strength in depth at McDermott’s disposal.
After being outclassed by Wigan and Warrington in their previous two Super League outings, the Bulls now had to raise their game.
But if they could match the champions on their own turf, why not at Odsal? In a breakneck opening though, Leeds quickly illustrated their championship class.
Captain Kevin Sinfield, making his 450th appearance for Leeds, sent a teasing kick inside the right channel for Watkins to collect.
He in turn kicked dangerously behind the Bradford defence but the danger was eventually cleared and the hosts steadied themselves, thanks in no small part due to a fine kick from Luke Gale.
Yet the respite did not last long as Leeds led in exhilarating fashion after winger Ryan Hall caught another kick from Gale. He moved infield from the left flank and found Watkins advancing at pace on his own 20-metre line.
The centre showed outstanding pace and strength to accelerate past a clutch of statuesque Bradford players from deep inside his own half to cross the line, despite Kear’s despairing lunge making contact with him.
Sinfield converted and three minutes later Leeds struck again after a brilliant array of inter-passing.
The Rhinos conjured a delightful handling sequence which saw the ball pass through Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney, Danny McGuire, Sinfield and Hardaker, whose neat pass sent Achurch bustling over the line from close range.
Sinfield added his second conversion and the Bulls were 12-0 down and facing a mountainous task.
They steadied themselves once more and fashioned a decent spell of field position but could not make it pay.
Gale, typically, was at the heart of all their best moves but Leeds continued to look dangerous.
In the 16th minute, Sinfield’s dangerous grubber kick was palmed out by Kearney at the expense of a goal-line drop-out.
Two minutes later, Sammut’s teasing kick forced Leeds to drop out and the Malta international stand-off then embarked on a brilliant run from inside his own half.
Leeds, rather fortuitously, were then awarded a penalty for an apparent obstruction and the Rhinos marched upfield before Rob Burrow’s short pass ushered Ablett over inside the right channel.
Sinfield again proved reliable with the boot and Cummins immediately made a double substitution, replacing former Leeds duo Matt Diskin and Nick Scruton with Heath L’Estrange and Ben Evans.
Danny Addy then replaced Chev Walker but it took a brilliant saving tackle from Kear to deny Hardaker a fourth Leeds try as the full back threatened to race clear.
L’Estrange and McGuire then squared up to one another before the Bulls joint-captain’s neat pass sent Evans barrelling over the line from close range.
Evans managed to ground the ball despite being caught high and late by Achurch’s challenge and Sammut converted to make it 18-6.
Yet Leeds continued to look irresistible with the ball in hand and they struck again five minutes before the break.
Replacement hooker Paul McShane showed some delightful footwork to glide past two defenders before showing intelligence to send McGuire galloping over from close range.
Sinfield’s fourth conversion from as many attempts left Leeds 24-6 up – but there was still time for more agony before the interval whistle. Bailey managed to ground the ball from close range and Sinfield’s fifth goal made it 30-6 at the break.
Moments after the restart, Addy caught Delaney late but the Bulls scored their second try of the match in the 45th minute when Kear finished with aplomb in the right corner.
They continued to probe and were rewarded again eight minutes later when Kearney’s neat footwork took him through a gap in the Leeds rearguard to scamper under the posts.
Sammut could not convert Kear’s effort but he improved Kearney’s score to bring the Bulls to within 14 points of their visitors.
Purtell then looked to have legitimately collected possession to break clear but referee Richard Silverwood called back play.
With 15 minutes remaining, Leeds struck again when Hardaker took a short pass from McGuire to score and Sinfield added the extras.
Ablett was then sent clear by Sinfield for his second try to complete the rout before Kear’s second, converted by Sammut, further restored the Bulls’ pride.
Sadly, it was not nearly enough.