St Helens 38 Leeds 10: Meli breaks Leeds' spirits as Saints romp to victory

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The Independent Online

St Helens became the first side into the Super League Grand Final with a commanding performance that included a couple of the most handsome tries you could wish to see. It was just too much for their great rivals Leeds to handle.

"I was in awe of it," said Saints coach Daniel Anderson. "It was a brave performance we could have gone into our shell but we played with the style we've shown all year."

The Yorkshire side could still come back to have a successful second bite, as they did last year, but they made too many fundamental mistakes to ever have a hope in this match.

On the night that Paul Sculthorpe announced his retirement – finally succumbing to the depressing series of injuries of the last three years – this was the sort of match he would have relished: first against second in Super League with a direct route to Old Trafford for the winners.

It was Saints who made the more convincing early strides along that road, with a try after six minute that exemplified the way they have tried to play the game – before, during and after the Sculthorpe era.

Attacking first down the left through Willie Talau and Francis Meli, they then stretched Leeds beyond breaking point by going the other way, for Ade Gardner to score his 30th try of the season from Matt Gidley's pass.

Leeds levelled when Meli could not hold Kevin Sinfield's high kick and Danny McGuire pounced to touch down.

Saints' pressure told when Keiron Cunningham found Gidley from dummy-half and the centre went in, with Sean Long landing the goal from the touchline.

Long increased Saints' lead with a penalty when Leon Pryce was rather lucky to be adjudged the victim of a ball-steal. He also hit the cross-bar with a penalty from halfway that was the last kick of the half.

The try that took Saints beyond recall just into the second half was worthy of winning any match. Pryce and James Roby kept the ball alive in the tackle, Pryce threw out a visionary long ball to Talau and Meli was there to finish.

There then followed two carbon-copy tries from Roby, both from Cunningham passes and both involving stepping through some distinctly weary tackling. When Jon Wilkin intercepted from Sinfield for the sixth St Helens try it was reaching embarrassing proportions for Leeds. They got one back through Gareth Ellis, but they face a major challenge to regroup in time to face Wigan or the Catalan Dragons on Friday – especially if Brent Webb is as badly hurt as he looked when he was carried off late in the game. Wilkin's second in the last minute emphasised the huge scale of the task they face.

"We were beaten by the better side," admitted Leeds Brian McLennan. "but we are at home next week and have a second chance."

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Gleeson, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Gilmour, Wilkin, Flannery. Substitutes used: Fozzard, Roby, Clough, Fa'asavalu.

Leeds: Webb; Smith, Ablett, Senior, Donald; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, SInfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Scruton, Bailey, Tansey.

Referee: A Klein (Keighley).