The team that Tony Smith built at Leeds saved the best for last with a glorious performance to upset the odds in the Super League Grand Final.
This was the sort of thing that just does not happen to St Helens in a big game, but the will and skill of the Rhinos overwhelmed the League Leaders in the second half. It was the fourth time this season that they have held an attack as potent as that belonging to Saints' scoreless through 40 minutes of rugby – you could almost say that they have got their number in that respect. Meanwhile, Leeds were piling up 25 points with some compelling attacks of their own.
Sandwiched between the various England efforts in other sports, it was arguably the most complete team display of the weekend. For Smith, who now goes full-time with Great Britain, it could hardly have been a better send-off and it is final proof of what a remarkable job he has done in his four years at Headingley. "You couldn't have written it much better," he said.
Not always the most comfortable of individuals under the media spotlight, Smith has done some things for which the whole game should stand and applaud him. He has maintained Leeds' proud tradition of playing expansive rugby, but he has added a new layer of steel and commitment to a common cause which has not always been their hallmark in the past.
He has done it, whenever possible, with a solid nucleus of locally-produced players, often giving youth its fling before others in similar positions would be willing to do so. It was fitting, then, that this second Super League title of his reign should be built on the contributions of several players who have come through what has become the most productive academy in the game.
Kevin Sinfield was the tactical brain behind this victory, with his kicking and distribution invariably striking the right notes. The same could be said of his sense of history when he dedicated the win to a Leeds legend, Jeff Stevenson, who died on the morning of the match.
It was even more appropriate that the Harry Sunderland Trophy for the man of the match should go to a scrum-half very much in the Stevenson mould, the small, tough and creative Rob Burrow. Smith has shown unshakable faith in Burrow, when others might have been inclined to regard him as a novelty turn or short-term impact player. His reward has been to see him develop into the sort of all-round performer who can shine on occasions like this.
There were others with particular reason for satisfaction. Jamie Peacock and Gareth Ellis were all class and passion in the pack, while Danny McGuire, badly outplayed by Leon Pryce at St Helens two weeks earlier, also showed his quality.
Above all that, this was a team performance, based on coming through a shaky first 10 minutes without damage and settling into the job superbly after that. A beautifully constructed try for Brent Webb and two Sinfield goals gave them a lead, but an equally good try from James Roby meant Saints were only two points behind at half-time.
Against St Helens that is nothing and there were hints from Sean Long, trying everything in his comeback match after a hamstring injury that threatened to keep him out, that they could still take control. A cheap turnover of possession at the start of the second half gave Saints the chance to do just that, but Leeds' defence held on and they went straight to the other end to score through Ali Lauitiiti.
Within a couple of minutes, they scored again when Scott Donald per-formed a classic wingman's in-and-away on Paul Wellens, of all people. The game was as good as won when Burrow then put over a strategic drop goal. Lee Smith and Jamie Jones-Buchanan, two more academy products, added further tries before the end as Saints, who could get only limited mileage from the other man coming back from injury, Maurie Fa'asavalu, finished the season as a tired team.
"It's not an excuse, but in the last 10 minutes that gruelling season told on us," said their coach, Daniel Anderson, of a campaign in which his side won everything else. "We've still had a very good year."
For Smith and his Rhinos it has been a very good four years and there was no hyperbole in Sinfield's description of him as the greatest coach the club has had. He has left his successor, Brian McClennan, with a hard act to follow.
St Helens: Try Roby; Goal Long. Leeds: Tries: Webb, Lauitiiti, Donald, Smith, Jones-Buchanan; Goals Sinfield 6; Drop Goal Sinfield.
St Helens: P Wellens; A Gardner, M Gidley, W Talau, F Meli; L Pryce, S Long; J Cayless, K Cunningham, N Fozzard, L Gilmour, J Wilkin, C Flannery. Substitutes used: J Roby, J Graham, M Fa'asavalu, M Bennett.
Leeds: B Webb; L Smith, C Toopi, K Senior, S Donald; D McGuire, R Burrow; K Leuluai, M Diskin, J Peacock, J Jones-Buchanan, G Ellis, K Sinfield. Substitutes used: A Lauitiiti, R Bailey, I Kirke, C Ablett. Referee: A Klein (Keighley).
* Greg Inglis scored a hat-trick of tries and Israel Folau two on his international debut as Australia beat New Zealand 58-0 in the centennial rugby league Test at Wellington. The young Melbourne Storm threequarters helped the Kangaroos to a record-breaking 11-try victory.Reuse content