Leeds Rhinos picked up the first trophy of the season last weekend as they win the Challenge Cup as they now turned their attention to the Super League and securing a play-off position. But they were up against the toughest of opponents as the reigning champions and league leaders St Helens welcomed Richard Agar’s side to the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Leeds are entering an intense period of matches as they try and catch up on fixtures and their coach elected to field a mix of youth and experience, the emphasis being on youth, as he appeared to have chosen to prioritise more winnable fixtures later over the coming days. St Helens, however, were at full strength and determined for the win.
Neither side would change position as a result of the game, but St Helens would consolidate their claim for the minor premiership with a win and the Rhinos really needed the points to keep in touch with a top four place.
It was the easiest of starts for the home side, Josh Simm taking the pass forty from the Leeds line and outthinking the defence, wrongfooting full-back Jack Walker to score under the uprights. Lachlan Coote added the conversion.
Alex Walmsley was sin-binned on ten minutes for a crusher tackle on Alex Sutcliffe but five minutes later Zeb Taia took an offload to finish a try which was made by a great break from James Roby. Coote was accurate with the boot for a 12-0 lead, there was only one side in it.
Simm got his second on twenty, stretching for the line off a Lomax pass, the two Rhinos defenders unable to hold him up. Coote was unable to add the conversion, the Leeds youngsters struggling to keep up with the relentless pace.
Simm completed his hat-trick on thirty-eight after good Saints pressure. Regan Grace went close but was tackled by Walker but a fast play the ball saw the ball shifted to the other wing where Simm found space for a walk-in try. Coote was able to add the extras and St Helens took a 22-0 lead into the sheds.
Ten minutes after the restart the Rhinos finally got on the scoresheet thanks to the determination of Cameron Smith who pushed over the top of Coote and managed to get the ball on the ground for a four pointer. Smith’s conversion wasn’t successful, Leeds still trailed by three converted tries.
The Rhinos fightback was short-lived. On sixty-two Theo Fages broke the Leeds line and despite being tackled close to the Leeds line he regained his feet to score beneath the posts. Coote added the conversion for 28-4.
Within two minutes the Champions were back in again with Kevin Naiqama starting and finishing the move, using Tommy Makinson as his runner as Saints went sixty metres down the right wing. Coote converted as Saints re-established the control they’d relinquished for the opening twenty minutes of the half.
Liam Tindall slid in at the corner for the Rhinos on seventy to get his first try for Leeds when he took a pass from Sam Walters. Smith pulled his kick across the front of the posts, Leeds 8-34 down with eight minutes remaining.
Aaron Smith scored Saints seventh after breaking the line, exchanging passes with the supporting Theo Fages, and going over by the uprights. Coote added the conversion to bring up the forty.
As soon as Agar showed his squad selection hand, there was only going to be one winner of this clash between the holders of the games two trophies. Leeds were saving their big guns for the battles ahead rather than a game which would take a massive effort to win. Saints will be happy with the points and relatively happy with the nature of the win but will probably be left wondering what happened in the barren spell at the start of the second half and how they allowed the Rhinos to score two tries.
St Helens: Coote (6G), Grace, Simm (3T), Naiqama (T), Makinson, Lomax, Fages (T), Walmsley (SB on 10), Roby, Lees, Taia (T), Bentley, Knowles. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Smith (T), Batchelor.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Tindall (T), Evans, Sutcliffe A, Briscoe L, McLelland, Broadbent, Oledzki, Dwyer, Holroyd, Walters, Thompson, Smith (T). Subs: Hall, Donaldson, O’Connor, Harrison.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Half Time: 22-0.
Full Time: 40-8.
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens.