Saints will defend their Super League title at Old Trafford in two weeks time and will surely relish next weekend off after a bruising and absorbing encounter. The two most attack minded teams in the competition served up something very different at Knowsley Road – a match of shuddering collisions played with Grand Final intensity.
With just one try apiece, it was ultimately the cool nerve of Matty Smith, the stand-in scrum half and goal kicker in Sean Long's absence, that made the difference. He put over what turned out to be the winning penalty after 66 minutes when Jamie Peacock took a high shot at Nick Fozzard.
That still left 15 minutes for the Rhinos, with more than their share of possession, to batter away at Saints' magnificent defence, but the closest they could get was five minutes from time when Brent Webb seemed certain to get over the line but was robbed by a brilliant tackle by Matt Gidley. "It was a massive tackle and you have to make those big plays in a game," said Saints coach Daniel Anderson.
Leeds took the lead in spectacular fashion when Lee Smith intercepted Jon Wilkin's pass and went 90 metres to score. Kevin Sinfield kicked the goal but, crucially as it transpired, missed a penalty after Fozzard was penalised for leading with his forearm.
Saints' reply came appropriately from the most creative player on show, Leon Pryce. He took a pass from Wilkin, dummied outside and cut back in at an angle for a perfectly executed try with Smith landing the equalising conversion.
Smith's accurate goal kicking also put Saints in the lead after 20 minutes and that was the way it stayed until half time.As Leeds' coach, Tony Smith, said, they had by far the better of the second half, drawing level through Sinfield's penalty before Smith got the vital two points.