Rugby League: Hanley's hard edge brings a new tone to Headingley: Leeds through to cup final to face Wigan who suffer second defeat in week

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The Independent Online
St Helens. . . . .8

Leeds. . . . . . 20

Sceptics who doubted whether there had been a fundamental change in the personality of Leeds saw proof of the phenomenon at Central Park on Saturday.

It was not merely the fact that they won their Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final to negotiate their way to Wembley for the first time since 1978. The key to their transformation was that they were willing and able to achieve it the hard way.

It was not the way anyone anticipated the wait ending. Surely the drought that their supporters, so often maligned for a certain natural arrogance but actually patient beyond the call of duty, had endured for so long would be broken by style and flair.

Instead, virtually all Leeds' expansive intentions were frustrated by a St Helens performance that lacked only the essential element of successfully converting pressure into points.

The Saints coach, Eric Hughes, was correct in reflecting that they had done everything else right. His argument that they would have gone on to win if they had ever taken the lead was equally hard to refute.

The potential was there to win the match, in the forceful running of Andy Dannatt and Bernard

Dwyer, the tireless linking of Shane Cooper and the varied kicking game of Tommy Martyn.

But Saints bungled two excellent chances and had all others negated by Leeds' mastery of what has often, during the past 16 years, looked like an alien art to them.

Their tackling and defensive organisation was simply magnificent and the most Saints could achieve during 40 minutes of almost constant pressure was to cancel Leeds' early eight-point lead.

During the half of the match which they spent penned in their own 25, Leeds were able to make only the most sporadic break-outs. When they did get away, they looked like men on leave from the trenches, uncertain whether they should be enjoying themselves or getting back to where the real war was going on.

Once Martyn, who scored all Saints' points, had brought them level, however, Leeds' response was ruthless. Alan Tait's break and a faltering move down the left initiated by Garry Schofield's misplaced pass both found Ellery Hanley in the perfect place to do what Saints had failed to do by turning position into points.

Doug Laughton, who had already shaken hands on a two-year extension of his contract before the match, has invested so much of his credibility in signing Hanley that his captain's decisive tries acquired extra significance.

Hanley is now 33 and, as became clear on Saturday, is not going to adopt after-match manners suitable to a a Swiss finishing school at this stage. It would be unfair, however, to deny the influence he has had on Leeds.

The hard-boiled competitiveness that has been the hallmark of his career has set a new tone at Headingley. That bloody-minded determination is not always attractive, but it is the prime reason why a club who had seemed irredeemably soft- centred will play Wigan at Wembley on 30 April.

St Helens: Tries Martyn; Goals Martyn 2. Leeds: Tries Hanley 2, Eyres; Goals Holroyd 4.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon (Donohue, 11; Fallon, 40), Iro, Innes, Cummins; Holroyd, Schofield; Harmon (Rose, 61), Lowes, Howard (Harmon, 74), Mercer, Eyres, Hanley (capt).

St Helens: Lyon; Hunte, Ropati, Loughlin, Sullivan; Martyn, Griffiths; Dannatt (Mann, 60), Dwyer, Mann (Harrison, 26; Pickavance, 66), Joynt, Pickavance (Veivers, 34), Cooper (capt).

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).