Leeds pull off another Final miracle
Warrington Wolves 18 Leeds Rhinos 26: Sinfield and Ablett inspirational as Rhinos make it five wins in six finals and leave Wolves licking wounds
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 07 October 2012
Experience trumped desire at Old Trafford as Leeds claimed an astonishing fifth Super League Grand Final triumph in six years.
The Rhinos' captain, Kevin Sinfield, was named man of the match for his 14 points from a try and five goals, but the performance of Carl Ablett and the work-load that he imposed on Lee Briers was an equally big factor as Leeds avenged their Challenge Cup final defeat in August.
This was as a far better game than that earlier showpiece. It was fiercely contested but enterprising and entertaining at the same time.For Leeds to have won the title once from fifth place was remarkable; twice in a row almost amounts to consistency.
"We rewrote history last year," said an emotional Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. "We were under pressure every match this time, but when it gets tough they come into their own."
It was the Old Trafford know-how of Leeds against the Grand Final hunger of a Wolves side that had never been there. There were no surprises in the team selections, with the warm favourites Warrington fielding an unchanged 17 and the Rhinos bringing back Danny McGuire following his one-match suspension.
It was the Wolves who had the better of the early stages of an adventurous first half, in which both sides were willing to throw the ball around from the start.
It was not long before Warrington got their reward, Richie Myler taking a pass from Mick Higham and finding the sort of gap in the defensive line that should not have been there in the first four minutes of a major final.
Leeds thought they had an equaliser, but Sinfield's pass to Ryan Hall was ruled forward. Leeds' tactics towards the Wolves' orchestrator-in-chief, Lee Briers, were clear enough, running at him repeatedly to force him to tackle as much as possible, with Ablett twice tackling him fractionally after he had kicked the ball.
That did not stop Briers from creating an opportunity for Joel Monaghan with a peach of a pass, but the winger's kick-ahead bounced unluckily.
The game changed its complexion over the next five minutes, starting with Sinfield's kick for the corner which evaded Monaghan. Ablett grabbed it and had the presence of mind to flip it to Sinfield, following up his own kick to score.
Sinfield's conversion put Leeds level and his penalty put them ahead. Their key moment, however, came when Mike Cooper was penalised for a high tackle on Brett Delaney and Leeds moved the ball rapidly to the right, through Jamie Peacock, Sinfield and McGuire, for Ben Jones-Bishop to get outside Chris Riley and score. Sinfield's kick made it a handy eight-point lead.
In the minutes before half-time, the Wolves began to find their form. Briers' long pass to Monaghan was perfect and his conversion and penalty when Jamie Jones-Buchanan strayed offside levelled the scores at the interval.
They hit the front on 44 minutes, after Zak Hardaker lost the ball – albeit in a questionable tackle. Warrington seized their chance, Ryan Atkins taking Brett Hodgson's pass and wrestling his way over in the corner.
Sinfield had taken a late knock from Michael Monaghan and then went through an understandably quiet patch. Leeds kept the pressure on, however, and they edged ahead when Briers went high on Ablett and their personal duel continued with the Rhinos' centre going through his tackle on the try-line, Sinfield adding the goal.
Warrington were making too many handling mistakes to get back into the game, and eight minutes from time, Leeds showed them how it should be done. McGuire threw the ball wide and Ablett continued his eventful evening by drawing the defence expertly and putting Hall over for the score.
Sinfield maintained his faultless play-off goalkicking by landing the conversion from the touchline for a tally of five from five, making it 21 successes in a row for the inspirational leader.
"They were the better team on the night," conceded the Warrington coach Tony Smith. "It was a good, tough Grand Final, but we probably lacked a bit of discipline on our try-line. I thought our defence was enormous there tonight but if you just don't quite do things right or you give away that next penalty, that's tough work."
He added: "We're hurting there, we've talked about it but we've had a terrific season. This will drive us."
Smith also paid tribute to Sinfield, whom he coached while he was in charge at Leeds. "He's one of the very best club players of my whole time over here," Smith said. "He's a real inspiration to them and he handles it all with dignity and class.
Warrington Wolves Hodgson; J Monaghan, Ratchford, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Myler; Hill, Higham, Harrison, Waterhouse, Westwood, Grix. Subs used M.Monaghan, Wood, Morley, Cooper.
Leeds Rhinos Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey. Subs used Kirke, Lunt, Griffin, Ward.
Referee R Silverwood (Mirfield).
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