Leeds establish dynasty to rival Wigan's great era of dominance

Leeds Rhinos 26 Warrington Wolves 18

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The Independent Online

When will we ever learn? Repeat after me: Never, ever bet against Leeds when there is a Grand in the final. The Rhinos have built the most overwhelming dominance in one trophy since Wigan bestrode the game 20 years ago.

Saturday's 26-18 victory over Warrington at Old Trafford was their fifth in six years of Super League Grand Finals. The real surprise is that the majority rated them as outsiders this time, leaving us to wonder how we doubted that Leeds would get the job done.

They did so by revealing a new facet of their know-how. They didn't invent anything new at Old Trafford, but they did one crucial thing as well as anyone can ever have done in a major final.

The tactic of targeting the opposition play-makers and forcing them to use up their energy in defence is as old as the Pennines. Rarely, however, has anyone been subjected to it as relentlessly and effectively as Warrington's Lee Briers.

Leeds did a job on the potential match-winner, running at him time and time again, especially through Carl Ablett, a forward disguised as a centre, who gave him a battering.

A couple of his contacts, as Briers was getting kicks away, were of borderline legality. In general, though, he just made him tackle, tackle and tackle again, probably the heaviest defensive workload he has ever had to shoulder.

Briers stood up to it manfully, although Ablett went through him for one try. The Warrington stand-off also produced a couple of moments of characteristic creativity, but he was not able to exert the influence that he usually does on the big occasion.

"He's had that for most of his career," said the Warrington coach Tony Smith, describing the pressure Briers was put under. "Some days you can overcome it, some days you can't."

There was support for Ablett in the voting for the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match, but the overwhelming choice was Kevin Sinfield. The Leeds captain had another of those big games where he seems to have had a private preview of the script and knows precisely what is going to be required to win.

He scored the first try, had a hand in a couple of others and landed five goals from five attempts – some of them from difficult angles – to complete a remarkable run of 21 in a row during the play-offs. The goal-kicking is only the tip of the iceberg with this coolest of big-game specialists. There is an assurance about him that spreads through the spine of the team and lifts the whole side. Zak Hardaker was a case in point. Not even tried at full-back until midway through the season, he could have been a weak link at Old Trafford.

Instead, he played with complete confidence, although the paucity of the Wolves' kicking game no doubt helped.

Smith, who had a good deal to do with his development as a player when he was coach at Leeds, paid fulsome tribute to Sinfield, especially his leadership off the field.

He underlined his value on it, despite spending part of the second half in a blur after a clash of heads with Michael Monaghan. Other players would have gone off but Sinfield does not do things like that.

Warrington played in fits and starts during a commendably adventurous and highly watchable Grand Final.

Their inability to produce their best often enough emphasised how difficult it is to achieve the double of Challenge Cup and Super League now the finals are so close together. Only St Helens in 2006 have managed it since the new calendar was adopted.

There are those who believe that Leeds twice winning the competition from fifth place makes a mockery of the regular season. The Rhinos play the system, however. They strive for consistency but they know that how you play in late February is far less important than how you play for 80 minutes in early October.

Already their minds are turning towards next season, starting in earnest with the World Club Challenge against the formidable Melbourne Storm.

Leeds have also declared their willingness to go to Australia if Melbourne want it that way. Winning there and winning the elusive Challenge Cup would be the achievements that remain on the wish-list for this remarkable Leeds team.

Warrington: Tries Myler, J Monaghan, Atkins. Goals Hodgson 3. Leeds: Tries Sinfield, Jones-Bishop, Ablett, Hall. Goals Sinfield 5.

Warrington: Hodgson; Riley, Ratchford, Atkins, J Monaghan; Briers, Myler; Harrison, Higham, Hill, Westwood, Waterhouse, Grix. Substitutes used Cooper, M Monaghan, Wood, Morley.

Leeds: Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; McGuire, Sinfield; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey. Substitutes used Kirke, Lunt, Ward, Griffin.

Referee Richard Silverwood.

Whole new ball game

Warrington Wolves prop Paul Wood has had a testicle removed after rupturing it in Saturday's Grand Final defeat by Leeds Rhinos.

Wood suffered the injury at the start of the second half but played on before going to hospital after the match.

He tweeted: "Ruptured my right testicle, got a knee 1 minute into the second half, had to have it removed."

The 30-year-old added: "Just coming out the hospital to go home... Seriously feel like I've left something?"