Powell eager for a happy return

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The Independent Online

Leeds coach Daryl Powell can't wait for history to repeat itself after his Rhinos team flexed their muscles for the Super League play-offs with a surprising 23-18 win at champions St Helens on Friday night.

Powell's men will return to Saints for the elimination play-off in a fortnight in great heart after becoming only the second team to win at Knowsley Road this year. Two tries from pint-sized scrum-half Rob Burrow, a superb replacement for the injured Ryan Sheridan, helped Leeds to only their second win over the "big three" this season and raised hopes of a second Grand Final appearance in four years. "We've got to get consistency going into the play-offs and, if we do that, we've got players who are capable of beating the top teams," said Powell.

Leeds adapted more comfortably to the greasy conditions and made better use of the strong wind in the first half to establish an 18-6 lead. Left- winger Mark Calderwood finished a superb 60-metre move for the try of the match, sandwiched between Burrow's two-try salvo, as the Rhinos took a grip.

Saints, who had opened the scoring with a fourth try in two games from 20-year-old third-choice hooker Dave McConnell, hit back with second-half tries from Sean Hoppe and Keiron Cunningham, but Leeds skipper Francis Cummins sealed a notable victory with a fourth try on the hour.

Powell added: "We showed tremendous commitment in difficult circumstances. We lost Karl Pratt early on and then Robbie Mears, but the blokes who filled were fantastic. Rob Burrow is so quick and in those conditions he's extra-dangerous."

Former Auckland Warriors hooker Mears will take no part in the play-offs after sustaining a broken jaw in a tackle by St Helens prop Sonny Nickle, who may be called in front of the League's disciplinary committee after the incident was put on report.

The circumstances of the injury left Powell fuming. "What really annoys me is that a touch judge can see Barrie McDermott get the ball knocked out of his hands from 50 metres but he can't see from 10 metres someone get his jaw broken. It doesn't make much sense," he said.

Saints did not emerge unscathed, for prop David Fairleigh, who has enjoyed a magnificent first season in Super League, damaged his shoulder in the opening moments of the match and could be doubtful for the play-offs.

The defeat will almost certainly ensure that St Helens remain in fourth place – third-placed Hull can open up a four-point gap with a win over Salford at the Boulevard tomorrow – but coach Ian Millward revealed that he had resigned himself to finishing outside the top three six weeks ago.

"I'll be honest, three-quarters of the way through the season, at the back of my mind I thought we might run fourth," he said.

"So we tried to do a lot of planning and hopefully it will go the right way for us in the semi-finals.

"How far we go will depend a lot on injuries. The teams we play are very good, so we're going to have to be very good.

"I think Super League is a pretty strong competition now. We know Wigan or Bradford will be in the Grand Final, it will be up to someone else to challenge them."

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