Two moments of brilliance from Rob Burrow made Leeds Rhinos the first side to win a Super League Grand final after finishing a lowly fifth in the table.
The diminutive half-back scored the game's first try in the first half, then set up the clincher 10 minutes from time. Every vote cast for the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match went to him in an unprecedented outbreak of unanimity. "I'm humbled by that," he said. "But the lads were fantastic tonight. I don't really care about the tries. The win's the thing, that's the kind of team we are. We never give up."
The Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield echoed those sentiments. "What a season. What a night," he said, dedicating the victory to, among others, the doubters who had criticised them earlier in the season.
Brian McDermott, the coach who bore the brunt of that criticism, called Burrow's two contributions "jaw-dropping", but equally crucial was the way Leeds defended for a virtually unbroken 10 minutes at the start of the second half.
This was a confrontation between two teams that nobody expected to be at Old Trafford – including themselves. The traditional Grand Final drizzle pointed towards difficult handling conditions, low scoring and a tight game. Nothing that happened in a first half that resembled a very wet, physical game of chess did anything to contradict that.
The first mistake came from Brent Webb, knocking on in James Roby's tackle. That loss of possession indirectly produced a chance for Leeds, Brett Delaney picking up Lee Gaskell's kick and setting off for the other end.
That apart, the best of the limited opportunities fell to Saints. Francis Meli failed to hold a difficult pass from Gaskell almost on the try-line and Roby got over, but after the ball had gone forward off Paul Clough.
Then came a torrent of points in the shape of an exchange of penalties; Jamie Foster for Saints after Jamie Peacock had held down Gaskell; and Sinfield when Sia Soliola knocked the ball out of Danny Buderus's hands.
By then, Burrow was in the game. Using him as a substitute would not be everyone's idea of the best use of resources but, not for the first time this season, it worked.
The smallest man on the field ducked under Scott Moore's tackle and used his trademark acceleration to cut through the remainder of Saints' defence, leaving Paul Wellens helpless and giving Sinfield the simplest of conversions.
Leeds' errors put them under pressure at the start of the second half, forcing them into five solid minutes of defending which included a disallowed try to Paul Clough.
On a rare foray to the Saints' end, Sinfield missed a drop-goal and soon the Rhinos were on the rack again. Something had to give, and it did when Tom Makinson kicked ahead cleverly and somehow reached around Webb's body to touch it down millimetres before the dead-ball line.
Five minutes later, Ben Jones-Bishop's fumble under the high kick exposed Leeds once more. From the base of the scrum Roby, Jonny Lomax and Gaskell combined sweetly for Michael Shenton to get through.
Gaskell's 40/20 gave Saints field possession again and a goal from Foster. It seemed everything was going their way when Sinfield put his kick-off dead on the full and Foster booted a monster from halfway.
The title was on its way to St Helens but that all changed in the last 16 minutes. First, Buderus worked the blindside for Webb to reach through a three-man tackle.
Sinfield landed the conversion and a penalty, but then came the game's defining moment. Burrow sped out of dummy-half, dashed 20 metres, feinted to pass to Ryan Hall and then, with perfect timing, did so.
The game was won. Saints, with Wellens and Shenton both off the field injured, had given it their best shot, to no avail. "The injuries were pretty crucial because I thought we were well on top at the time," said Saints' coach Royce Simmons.
Late tries from Carl Ablett and Zak Hardaker were a mere footnote to what will be remembered as Rob Burrow's match.
St Helens Wellens; Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Gaskell, Lomax; Graham, Roby, Puletua, Wilkin, Soliola, Clough. Substitutes used Moore, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Dixon, Wheeler.
Leeds Webb; Jones-Bishop, Hardaker, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Clarkson. Substitutes used Burrow, Bailey, Lauitiiti, Kirke.
Referee P.Bentham (Warrington).Reuse content