Bradford Bulls moved two points clear at the top of Tetley's Rugby Super League with a narrow 18-16 win at Leeds Rhinos on Friday night. The Bulls have now won their last seven matches to overhaul the Rhinos and, while they will meet again before the end of the season, they took a huge boost in the race to finish on top of the ladder.
In the end, a two-try burst just after half time was enough to seal the win for the Bulls, their third this season against Leeds.
The game saw the second largest ever Super League crowd of 23,035, and started at a frantic pace.
The Rhinos had the battle of the opening quarter, with a Kevin Sinfield chip being just too deep before Shontayne Hape had to track down Chris McKenna.
Lesley Vainikolo was just unable to reach a Paul Deacon kick to the corner, while Keith Senior then saw Andrew Dunemann's pass bounce off his chest with the line beckoning.
Sinfield missed with a 42 metre penalty attempt on 15 minutes, and the Bulls managed to open the scoring with a thrilling breakaway try five minutes later.
McKenna was unable to take Dunemann's testing kick, and Vainikolo collected on his own line before charging up the wing, past Mark Calderwood's cover tackle and in to the posts for the try.
Deacon's conversion put the Bulls 6-0, but Leeds managed to hit back with a double-burst to go into the break ahead.
Wayne McDonald and Matt Adamson had both been stopped just short before the ball was moved left and Dunemann's long pass allowed Gary Connolly to celebrate his 500th appearance by dummying over.
Sinfield added the touchline conversion to level matters before Leeds again got on a roll to move 10-6 up on 38 minutes.
Substitute Danny McGuire darted out of dummy half, and his pass allowed Keith Senior to spin out of Leon Pryce's tackle to score.
The Rhinos had a golden opportunity to edge away in the final minute of the half, when McGuire broke free from inside his own half.
But the stand off was shoulder-charged into touch by Stuart Reardon whilst looking for the inside ball - and with Calderwood unmarked outside him.
Leeds saw another opportunity go begging a minute after the restart, Matt Diskin being ruled offside after being first to Sinfield's kick.
And they were made to pay on 44 minutes, James Lowes' well-timed pass putting Rob Parker over, Deacon goaling to put the Bulls 12-10 up.
And they moved eight points clear on 52 minutes when Deacon sent Jamie Peacock storming past Matt Diskin on a 45-metre break, with Mike Forshaw supporting to collect his pass a yard out and fall over the line.
But Leeds managed to again hit back, and were within two points just before the hour, when Rob Burrow was first to the ball after Tevita Vaikona failed to clear a Sinfield kick, the Leeds skipper goaling.
Calderwood was unlucky to have a foot in touch when chasing a kick a minute later, while he was also tackled into touch by Vainikolo.
Deacon was wide with a drop goal attempt as he looked to consolidate the lead, while Senior was stopped just short at the other end with six minutes on the clock.
Senior, again, and McKenna were both stopped by resolute Bulls defence as the clock ticked down, and the Odsal outfit held on to secure the win.
"That is one of the toughest games I've had the privilege to coach," said Bulls boss Brian Noble. "That's a good a defensive performance as I've seen in this country.
"The play on Danny McGuire (before half time) sparked us up, it gave us a huge lift. Leeds had a real dig.
"But the desire and effort was outstanding, we only got down their four times but I think we went into auto-pilot and kept finding the plays.
"It was a good win and a big game for Rugby League, but the two points was our focus."
Rhinos coach Daryl Powell said: "I'm really proud of the players and the effort they have put in.
"They stuck together and it was a pretty tough game. We threw a lot at Bradford and you have to give them a pat on the back for the way they defended their own try-line.
"They did it exceptionally well and that won them the game in the end.
"I thought we could have been a little bit more patient and clinical with the ball but we did a lot of good things and there is plenty more to come from us."Like