Cunningham exacts revenge for Saints

St Helens 41 Leeds Rhinos 20
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The Independent Online

Saints moved into second place in style last night as Leeds' defence of their Super League title remained in stuttering mode at Knowsley Road.

The mastery around the rucks of their two hookers, Keiron Cunningham and James Roby, proved crucial as Saints recovered from a dreadful start to win with something to spare.

With both sides well below full strength, however, not too much should be read into the final result – although it will still be sweet revenge for St Helens for all that.

There might be plenty of other side-shows elsewhere, but the central story-line in Super League in recent years has been the fierce rivalry between Leeds and Saints. Their meetings rarely disappoint, especially when, like this, they are the first reunion since a Grand Final.

Leeds, the victors at Old Trafford in October, could not have started this clash any better. Kyle Eastmond put his kick-off out of play on the full and the Rhinos pounced on the mistake, with Ian Kirke's clever one-handed pass around the tackler putting Lee Smith over. Kevin Sinfield added the conversion – and we were still inside the first minute.

After an opening like that, both sides found it much more difficult to score for a while, Cunningham and Chris Flannery having efforts disallowed for Saints and Ryan Hall, rather more mysteriously, for Leeds.

That was the cue for Cunningham, Super League's most battle-hardened campaigner, to create a couple of tries that could not be chalked off.

His trademark short passes from dummy-half produced scores for Scott Moore and Tony Puletua. Jamie Foster, the young winger kicking in preference to Eastmond, landed both conversions, as well as a penalty when Leeds were pulled up for ball-stealing in front of the posts.

Nor was there much relief for the Rhinos when Cunningham went off for a well-earned rest. Shortly before half-time his replacement at hooker, Roby, punished them from dummy-half again, reaching over to score himself and leave Foster a simple fourth goal.

Saints almost started the second half with another disaster when Nick Fozzard lost the ball in the first tackle, but Danny McGuire narrowly failed to touch down.

Instead, on the back of a couple of penalties, Saints went down to the other end, where Eastmond's superb pass sent Flannery through. The 19-year-old Foster continued his faultless kicking before Eastmond then cheekily tagged on another point with a drop-goal.

There was a glimpse of Leeds' quality when Brett Delaney dived over on the end of a slick back-line move but Roby claimed his second try of the match before Rob Burrow went the length of the field for a consolation late score.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Wheeler, Flannery, Foster; Moore, Eastmond; Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Clough, Dixon, Puletua. Substitutes used: Fozzard, Roby, Ashurst, Fa'asavalu.

Leeds: Smith; Hall, Delaney, Senior, Bush; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan, Kirke, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Buderus, Peacock, Burgess, Ambler.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).