Leeds gave Tony Smith the perfect send-off with a memorable Super League Grand Final victory to set the seal on his four years in charge. Smith will go off to concentrate on coaching Great Britain with a spring in his stride after tries from Ali Lauitiiti and Scott Donald in quick succession early in the second half steered the Rhinos towards a well-deserved win at Old Trafford, ending Saints' perfect record there.
Beaten by two points by Saints two weeks earlier, the Rhinos showed how well they had regrouped by controlling the game with their intelligent tactics and inspired finishing.
The first mystery of the evening was cleared up when Saints named both Sean Long and Maurie Fa'asavalu, after an hour or two of rumour and counter-rumour about whether their shirts were on the dressing-room pegs. Long's hamstring was tested first, when he kicked ahead after three minutes and was obstructed by Matt Diskin. Ashley Klein awarded the game's first penalty but Long missed an easy shot at goal.
The best attacking opportunity with the ball in hand came when Francis Meli followed up his own kick to take Lee Smith into touch, but the Leeds defence held firm and after 14 minutes the Rhinos took the lead.
A penalty for a high tackle moved them upfield and another, for Chris Flannery's offside, gave Kevin Sinfield the chance to become the first Leeds player and only the second in Super League to play and score in every match of a season. If that was a good enough start, the Leeds fans were soon in ecstasy.
Jon Wilkin's kick was charged down to give them possession and some wonderful handling, started by Danny McGuire and Sinfield and continued by Brent Webb, Keith Senior and Donald, ended with Webb squeezing in at the flag. Just to put the icing on the cake, Sinfield landed the conversion from the touchline.
Saints brought on Fa'asavalu and the recently crowned Man of Steel, James Roby, but they were rattled and it showed in the way Leon Pryce lost the ball in the tackle. However, after 26 minutes Saints exploded into life with an even better try. Again it was a penalty, McGuire going high in the tackle, that gave them the impetus and Pryce, Long and Lee Gilmour kept the ball alive and made the ground from which Roby took Gilmour's basketball pass to pull out of two tackles and get over the line, Long adding the goal.
There was another moment of magic when McGuire kicked and re-gathered, with Donald narrowly failing to touch down from his second kick. Leeds deserved to be more than two points ahead at half-time and they were the side wishing that the first half could have continued indefinitely.
They were cursing the interruption when Donald's lost possession at the play-the-ball put them under the cosh after the break, but crucially they survived that examination and went to the other end to force a mistake from Willie Talau.
The Rhinos capitalised when Sinfield retrieved his own charged-down kick and kept it alive for Smith, who gave Lauitiiti the invitation to charge over.
Almost immediately, Leeds struck again, Webb and Senior getting the ball to Donald, who left Paul Wellens stranded in a way that hardly ever happens. Sinfield's conversion and man-of-the-match Burrow's drop goal made it a strategic 13-point lead.
Leeds had to soak up plenty of pressure before making the game safe when Smith leapt above Meli to take McGuire's kick for their fourth try. A conversion and a long-range penalty from Sinfield stretched the lead further before Jamie Jones-Buchanan finished it in style by getting over in the final seconds.
St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Gibley, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Fozzard, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Flannery, Wilkin. Substitutes used: Roby, Bennett, Graham, Fa'asavalu.
Leeds: Webb; Donald, Toopi, Senior, Smith; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Bailey, Laitiiti, Kirke, Ablett.
Referee: A Klein (Keighley).Reuse content