Bradford Bulls 6, Leeds Rhinos 46
Francis Cummins does not need telling about the quality that Leeds possess, but the Bulls coach was given an unwanted reminder during an exhilarating opening spell which simply blew his team away.
The Rhinos, the club Cummins served with distinction for well over a decade, were 20-0 up and cruising after just 15 minutes.
Bradford barely touched the ball and struggled to complete a set during that period as Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire, former team-mates of Cummins at Headingley, orchestrated the visitors’ dominance.
Sinfield opened the scoring in fortuitous fashion, Joel Moon added a fine second try, McGuire danced through a statuesque Bradford defence for a third and Ryan Hall added a fourth with a typically predatory finish.
Cummins’ team, to their credit, did not buckle and Lee Gaskell scored an exhilarating long-range effort to raise home spirits in the 23rd minute.
That gave the Bulls a much-needed foothold in the match, and they improved defensively thereafter, but there was precious little cohesion in their attacks.
Hall underlined the gulf in class between the sides after the break with two more clinical finishes to complete his hat-trick, before Liam Sutcliffe, Kallum Watkins and Burrow also got on the scoresheet.
The result left Bradford without a victory over their fiercest rivals since famously toppling them at Odsal on Good Friday two years ago.
More significantly, it left them still on minus two points with exactly a third of the season gone.
To make matters worse, Matty Blythe, James Donaldson, Adam Sidlow and Gaskell all picked up injuries, the seriousness of which is not yet clear.
The Bulls had been dealt a blow prior to kick-off when skipper Matt Diskin and winger Jamie Foster were ruled out by injury and illness respectively.
That prompted a reshuffle which saw Adam Henry switched to the left wing and Blythe moved into the centres while Brett Kearney made his 100th appearance for the club.
Danny Bridge earned a starting role in the second row alongside Dale Ferguson, while Tom Olbison returned on the bench.
Adam O’Brien started at hooker in Diskin’s absence with Danny Addy on the bench, with Sidlow and Chev Walker making up the interchange group.
With Anthony Mullally’s season-long loan having ended prematurely following his recall to Huddersfield, Jamal Fakir made his first start for the Bulls in the front row alongside Manase Manuokafoa.
Although former Bradford star Jamie Peacock was rested, Leeds recalled a trio of key men in Zak Hardaker, McGuire and Brett Delaney.
Legendary former Bulls winger Lesley Vainikolo was introduced to the crowd shortly before kick-off to rapturous applause from supporters.
The hosts could have used someone with the finishing power of the Tongan star, now playing his trade in the French lower leagues, last night.
Certainly the presence of Vainikolo served as a reminder of what the Bulls once were.
Asked about the secret behind Bradford’s golden era during the early years of the millennium, Vainikolo said: “We just had a good bunch of players who would die for the Bulls on and off the field.
“That’s what you really need in a big game such as a derby against Leeds.
“You need your brothers beside you and that’s what we had during my time at the club. It was awesome to be a part of.”
The 34-year-old had posed for pictures with fans earlier in the day at the opening of the club’s new shop and ticket office.
With such positive developments behind the scenes, it is hard not to feel that momentum is building off the field but results on it will ultimately determine the Bulls' fate.
Yet they got off to a disastrous start last night as Leeds struck the opening blow inside the third minute.
After some neat handling involving Burrow, Sinfield, McGuire, Hardaker and Moon, Hardaker was held up over the line.
But moments later, McGuire stabbed a kick forward on the last tackle and the ball ricocheted fortuitously into the grateful arms of Sinfield, who touched down with ease.
The Rhinos skipper added the extras and Leeds purred ominously before claiming a second try in the ninth minute after the Bulls had been penalised for a ball steal on Brad Singleton.
This time Sinfield’s rapier-like offload reached Hall in the left corner and he expertly found Moon inside him to give the Australian centre a simple score.
It got worse for the Bulls three minutes later as McGuire collected possession 20 metres out and showed some nimble footwork to weave his way through a leaden-footed home defence to score all too easily.
Leeds simply refused to let up and scored their fourth try in the 15th minute when more slick handling led to Moon returning the favour with a pass that sent Hall plunging over in the left corner.
Sinfield’s conversion attempt flew narrowly wide but the visitors were 20-0 up and in total control with just 15 minutes played.
At this point the Bulls had barely completed a set as Leeds utterly dominated possession and territory.
Cummins brought Fakir off in the 15th minute and replaced him with Sidlow, before swapping Manuokafoa with Walker soon after.
The Bulls gradually established a foothold in the game but when they breached the Rhinos’ line in the 23rd minute, it stemmed from a Leeds error.
Hardaker attempted to chip the ball over the Bradford defence on the last tackle inside the right channel.
But Gaskell was alert to it and caught the ball before showing outstanding pace to race over 80 metres and outstrip the Leeds defence, holding off Watkins to cross the line for a brilliant individual effort.
Gale added the simple conversion and suddenly the Bulls had some momentum.
Gale embarked on a fine break soon after Gaskell’s try, driving at the heart of the Leeds defence before Gaskell’s long pass went astray and put paid to a promising move.
On the half-hour mark, the Rhinos lost highly-rated youngster Stevie Ward to injury just moments after he came off the bench to replace Mitch Achurch.
Blythe departed the action at half-time, which prompted another reshuffle, and shortly after the restart a high kick from Gaskell was fielded by Hall at the expense of a drop-out.
The match grew scrappy but Leeds remained patient and, after Tom Briscoe had a try disallowed for a knock-on, they grabbed a fifth try when Hall finished well in the left corner.
The England man then had a walk-in for his hat-trick soon after and then Bridge failed to control the ball when Kearney found him just ten metres out.
It summed up the Bulls’ night, as did the injuries that mounted up, while former Bulls loanee Sutcliffe came off the bench to take Achurch’s pass to score from close range.
Watkins then burst clear after shrugging off a clutch of Bradford defenders as the home stands began emptying, before Burrow scampered over for a ninth try late on on his 400th appearance for the Rhinos.