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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
League poised for breakthrough
By Phil Gordos in Cardiff

Full-back Gary Connolly scores Leeds' opening try
No quarter was given in a tough Challenge Cup final
Rugby league is on the verge of a big breakthrough thanks to yet another blockbusting spectacle on a high-profile occasion.

In just six months, the sport has been blessed with three games that have left players emotionally and physically drained, spectators breathless and television chiefs rubbing their hands with glee.

First, there was the Tetley's Super League Grand Final last October, when Sean Long's last-gasp drop goal gave St Helens a thrilling victory over Bradford.

Then there was the epic Powergen Challenge Cup semi-final earlier this month between Saints and Leeds, who emerged triumphant after Kevin Sinfield's touchline conversion in the dying seconds took the game into extra time.

Finally, there was Saturday's showpiece at Cardiff between the Bulls and the Rhinos that see-sawed for the entire 80 minutes and had fans on the edge of the seats.

With the Rugby Football League making renewed efforts to promote the 13-a-side code beyond its traditional boundaries in the north of England, the timing could not have been better.

All three matches were perfect adverts for the game in their own right, but to have them in quick succession is a huge and welcome bonus.

Bradford coach Brian Noble, naturally ebullient after seeing his side edge Leeds 22-20 at the Millennium Stadium, insists rugby league is riding the crest of a wave, a wave that threatens to carry the game into previously barren areas.

"The thing about this game now is that you can lose to anybody," he said.

"Seven or right years ago when they embarked on Super League, the natives were restless.

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"But the product now - the speed, athleticism and the skill levels at times - is breathtaking."

Wales is one area the RFL are looking to make big inroads, having set up a Welsh-based division of the Rugby League Conference in recent months.

Saturday's Challenge Cup final can only have whetted the appetite for league in this part of the world.

Robbie Paul was quick to recognise the significance of his side's pulsating win in Cardiff.

"I hope this does wonders for the game of rugby league throughout the nations," said the Bulls skipper.

And Jimmy Lowes, a key figure in Bradford's victory over the West Yorkshire rivals, is keen for league to return to the Millennium Stadium.

"It was a fantastic game and a fantastic advertisement for rugby," said the hooker, who will retire at the end of the season.

"I'm sure the Welsh Rugby union and the Millennium Stadium people will want us back here."




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