RUGBY LEAGUE: 12-man Leeds' display of guts

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RUGBY LEAGUE

BY PETER WARD

Leeds 30

St Helens 26

Leeds took themselves to Old Trafford for the Premiership final for the first time with what was surely their best performance of the season. They faced a St Helens side that ebbed and flowed like the tide of the Mersey, but had to concede in the end to the amazing commitment shown by Leeds, down to 12 men for the whole of the second half after the sending- off of the inspirational Garry Schofield.

Leeds set off like a rocket, but all too soon their fireworks had fallen out of the sky, because St Helens lit the blue touchpaper. As it turned out, Leeds were saving the real pyrotechnics for later, but their initial sparkle at least saw Francis Cummins score after a long pass from Schofield to Craig Innes had opened the gap.

After Graham Holroyd's goal, St Helens took control, reducing Leeds and their supporters at times to seething frustration. Steve Prescott scored a try after Alan Tait untypically allowed a high ball to bounce, while Vila Matautia left Schofield for dead as he took Bobby Goulding's pass.

Paul Loughlin, in the corner after Phil Veivers had made the ground, and Goulding, tapping a penalty to himself and going over untouched, with two goals from Goulding, sent St Helens marching to a 20-6 lead.

Three minutes from the end of the half, Tait disputed a penalty decision by the referee, Stuart Cummings, and was sent to the sin-bin; two minutes later, Schofield got his permanent marching orders for arguing with the referee over a forward pass.

Leeds restarted with 11 men, and turned the game on its head. By the time Tait returned to the field, they had scored tries through George Mann - a brave solo on the short side - and Kevin Iro, sidestepping Veivers to go in at the corner, and had taken the score to 16-20 with one conversion from Holroyd.

From then, they went to 30-20 unopposed with a brilliantly achieved try from Innes who went past six defenders, and a dogged effort from Gary Mercer, with three goals from Holroyd - St Helens looked to have nothing left.

Urged on by Goulding, however, they raised their game yet again, scoring a try through Alan Hunte, and ended the match with furious attacks on the Leeds line that only foundered on a cool defensive response from the home side.

Leeds will now meet Wigan in the Premiership final, and on this showing will do much to reverse the disappointing meeting between the two sides at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Cummins; Schofield, Holroyd; Howard (Harmon, 31), Lowes (Vassilakopoulos h-t), Faimalo (Howard, 72), Mann, Eyres, Mercer.

St Helens: Prescott; Hunte, Lyon, Loughlin, Sullivan; Martyn (Morley, 49), Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, Pickavance, Matautia (Elia, 56), Nickle, Veivers.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

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