The Women’s Challenge Cup Final, the first game of a superb Elland Road triple header, saw the top two female sides in the country up against one another as St Helens faced the Leeds Rhinos for the first silverware of the season.
The game was played out in front of the BBC TV cameras and shown live to the nation on BBC2 and what a great advert for the game, and specifically the women´s game it was.
Saints knocked the Rhinos out at the semi-final stage last season before going on to beat York in the final and the Rhinos were runners up to Saints in the Women´s Super League last season. It really was a match between the two best and most successful sides in the Women´s game.
Leeds had the first possession but on three minutes a high kick was fumbled by Fran Goldthorp giving Saints a set on the Rhino line. Two plays in and Saints threw the ball into touch, both sides showing some early game nerves on the big occasion.
A tremendous thirty metre run from loose forward Zoe Hornby on fourteen saw her carry Jodie Cunningham over the line to force the ball onto the ground for the opening try of the game to give the Rhinos the lead, the first try Saints had conceded in this season’s competition. Courtney Winfield-Hill added the conversion for a 6-0 Rhinos lead.
The Rhinos had the upper hand and were defending solidly, diffusing every Saints attack.
Somehow, Beth Stott stopped Georgia Roche from grounding under the sticks off a Winfield-Hill high kick on twenty-tree to save a certain Leeds try.
Six minutes from the interval and Saints were right back in the game, a little against the run of play, when Leah Burke found herself in plenty of space to take a Zoe Harris high kick to the corner and ground in the right corner. Beth Stott was unable to convert from the touchline.
With just seconds of the first half remaining, Winfield-Hill kicked a thirty-five-minute penalty goal to double the half-time lead to 8-4 after a highly competitive first half.
An awful mix up in the Rhinos defence on forty-eight gifted Saints their second try as two Leeds defenders failed to deal with a kick through allowing Eboni Partington to pick up the ball and dot it down over the line. Stott was again unable to add the extras, the two sides tied up at 8-8 with half an hour remaining.
A poor penalty miss from Winfield-Hill on sixty-three spurned the chance of the lead for the Rhinos and as Saints returned the ball Jodie Cunningham crashed the Rhinos line to give Saints the lead as you visibly saw the Rhinos players heads drop to their chests. Stott added the goal, her first of the game, for a 14-8 lead.
With three minutes remaining Saints sealed the win to retain the trophy as Partington went over for her second of the game taking an Amy Hardcastle pass before juggling the ball and grounding in the left-hand corner. Stott missed her fourth kick of the afternoon, but it mattered nought as Saints lifted the trophy after an arm-wrestle of a game.
Saints did what Saints do, the absorbed the Rhinos pressure and as their opponents tired they hit them with a couple of quick and well worked tries to steal a game where they had looked second best for long periods. Leeds can hold their heads up high as they played their part in a great game to entertain a good crowd in the stadium and an even larger audience on the TV.
St Helens: Rotherham, Partington (2T), Hardcastle, Roberts, Burke (T), Stott (G), Harris, Rudge I, Jones, Crowl, Travis, Williams, Cunningham (T). Subs: Whitefield, Rudge E, Sandham, Woosey.
Leeds Rhinos: Goldthorp, Gaines, Butcher, Beevers, Hulme, Roche, Winfield-Hill (2G), Anderson, Bennett, Staveley, Kerrigan, Watson, Hornby (T). Subs: Lumley, Lacey, McCallion, Barnes.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 4-8: HT : 8-8, 12-8, 14-8, 18-8 : FT.
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds.
Referee: Liam Rush.