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Rugby League: Rhinos can cash in on Bulls' woes; Bulls lack playmaker for crucial encounter.

Byline: Mark Langdon

IT'S payback time for Leeds when they take on Bradford in a potential Super League classic in front of a packed Headingley tonight, writes Mark Langdon.

The Bulls already have two wins over their local rivals this season, including a thrilling 22-20 triumph in the Challenge Cup final in May.

But that was then and this is now. The Rhinos should not be underdogs considering Bradford have so many injury doubts and we should hurt the bookmakers who give Daryl Powell's outfit a four-point handicap start.

Both sides are locked at the top of the table on 34 points after 21 games, which suggests they are of a similar ability, yet despite the added bonus of home advantage, Leeds are still considered a worse team.

If Bradford were at full strength, the handicap lines would be right, but Bulls coach Brian Noble, who cannot even name a squad until today, is a long way from being able to choose his best XIII.

Stand-offs Leon Pryce, Chris Bridge, Robbie Paul and Karl Pratt are sidelined, while a whole host of players must face late fitness tests just before kick-off.

Those on the treatment table include Tevita Vaikona, Daniel Gartner, Lesley Vainikolo and Lee Radford.

Needless to say if the quartet miss out - particularly the devastating duo of Vaikona and Vainikolo - Leeds will be backed off the boards.

But it is at stand-off where Noble has all the problems. To go into a game of this magnitude with no midfield magician must be a devastating blow.

Jimmy Lowes may be asked to fulfil the role. However, the hooker is no spring chicken and the pace of the game plus the heat could take its toll.

Should Bradford be off their game - and they have been known to wobble on the big occasion - Leeds have the players to come away with the valuable competition points.

Despite losing Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey and with Powell moving upstairs, Leeds still managed a 26-12 success at Hull.

Admittedly, Hull were hit by injuries, but the result was more comfortable than the score suggests.

The likes of Barrie McDermott, Dave Furner and Matt Adamson will not be bullied by Bradford's big pack and the Rhinos have the extra spark to put points on the board.

Andrew Dunemann orchestrates play from midfield and with explosive winger Mark Calderwood on his outside, they could combine to punish any error by the Bulls.

Keith Senior, with eight tries to his name, has not been as prolific as usual this term, but he looks value at 14-1 to get on the scoresheet first.

Recommendations

Leeds +4

3pts 9-10 (Bet Direct)

K Senior first try

1pt 14-1 (general)

CAPTION(S):

Dave Furner of Leeds is pulled down just short of the tryline in the Rhinos' Challenge Cup final defeat to Bradford earlier this season
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 8, 2003
Words:476
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