Leeds got over their frustration against Melbourne with a hard-working and determined victory over one of their main domestic rivals. Ryan Hall scored two tries and set up another as the champions moved into third place in the Super League table. It leaves Saints still without a home win this season.
The Rhinos had conceded over 40 points on their last three visits to Saints, but were in a very different mood last night. Leeds are always under particular scrutiny the week after the World Club Challenge. They were also thrashed by Saints in the equivalent match at Langtree Park last season.
There were few early signs of a hangover from either event last night, as the Rhinos took the lead with Kevin Sinfield’s penalty – his 40th success in a row for the club. It was short-lived, Stevie Ward making a mess of a play-the-ball and Jonny Lomax scoring with a characteristic angled run.
There were plenty of mistakes from both sides, but strong defence to compensate, with the only points coming through an equalising penalty from Sinfield.
Leeds are not usually associated with going for goal from their penalties, but they will have felt vindicated when they scored their first try almost immediately, from Rob Burrow’s scamper, Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s off-load and Ryan Hall’s finish.
Sinfield ended his long kicking sequence by failing with his conversion from the touch-line, but that still left the Rhinos with a narrow, but deserved four-point lead at half-time.
Leeds would have been further ahead if not for Willie Manu’s try-saving tackle on Ian Kirke two minutes into the second half. The big forward had the ball over the try-line but Manu somehow managed to claw it back – an effort typical of both teams’ tenacious defence.
Skilful handling from Tony Puletua and Manu almost opened up the Rhinos, but their tackling just about stood up to the test. Then Saints’ young debutant, Mark Percival, almost got clear on the left wing.
Hall had twice had treatment on a leg injury, but he was mobile enough to get under a high kick from Danny McGuire and dunk the ball down for Kylie Leuluai to claim a rare try, goaled by Sinfield.
Three minutes later, the dangerous centre, Joel Moon, got free to set up Hall for a second try to add to his assist.
Leeds had ground it out when they had to and opened it out when they could do. It added up to a winning formula, even though Francis Meli got a late consolation from a run and pass by the promising Percival.
A repeat performance from the same two players stirred memories of great escapes of the past, but this time it really was too late.
St Helens: Lomax; Gardner, Turner, Percival, Meli; Wheeler, Wilkin; Walker, Roby, Laffranchi, Soliola, Manu, Puletua. Substitutes used: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Jones, Clough, Greenwood
Leeds: Watkins; Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Ward. Substitutes used: McShane, Kirke, Clarkson, Moore.
Referee: P.Bentham (Warrington)