Leeds Rhinos 18
Tries Keinhorst, Achurch, Hall Goals Sinfield 3/3
St Helens 32
Tries Makinson, Jones, Walsh, Quinlan, Wilkin Goals Walsh 6/6
Reigning champions Saint Helens produced a clinical performance to beat a depleted Leeds Rhinos side for the first time this season.
Leeds, who were missing Zak Hardaker, Kallum Watkins and Rob Burrow, were coming off the back of their record 50-0 Challenge Cup final triumph over Hull KR, but were sluggish throughout, and were physically dominated all night.
It only took Saints three minutes to do what the Rovers failed to, as an enthusiastic kick and chase was rewarded when Leeds’ experienced half-back Danny McGuire uncharacteristically knocked on from dummy half, allowing winger Tommy Makinson to score in the corner. Luke Walsh superbly converted from out wide.
The Rhinos almost hit back immediately but good Saints defence first denied Ashton Golding, deputising at full-back on his 19th birthday, and then Adam Cuthbertson.
A disappointing start by the cup winners was then further compounded by Jamie Peacock having to leave the field after taking a knock to the head.
However the Rhinos regrouped and started to threaten when the offloads of Cuthbertson and Mitch Garbutt began to stick, allowing recalled centre Jimmy Keinhorst to cross and leave Sinfield with a simple conversion to level the scores.
St Helens looked far more composed with captain Jon Wilkin back from injury, and after winning consecutive penalties near the Leeds tryline, Josh Jones touched down in the corner, despite the best efforts of Golding and Keinhorst to hold him up. Walsh again added the extras from out wide.
The scrum-half extended Saints’ lead to eight points after Peacock, having returned from the sidelines, was penalised for being offside.
With minutes remaining before half-time, substitute Mitch Achurch cut the deficit as he span over from dummy half to ground the ball by his fingertips. Sinfield’s conversion cut the gap to two points.
The second half continued in the same error-strewn fashion, but it was Saints who struck early this time. Winger Adam Swift made the initial break from deep, before Walsh should good footwork to take on the defence and score. The Australian converted his own try to restore the eight-point margin.
Despite being penalised on numerous occasions, Saints defence remained watertight, and once they got an opportunity in the opposition half on the hour mark, a clever inside ball from Travis Burns allowed full-back Adam Quinlan to streak away to put the game to bed.
The Lancashire outfit almost went back to back when Mark Flanagan touched down, only for the video referee to judge Makinson had illegally challenged Ryan Hall in the air.
Hall gave Leeds a sniff of a comeback as he was in support of Sinfield’s back to score underneath the posts.
However it was Saints who had the last laugh as skipper Wilkin dotted down after the ball came lose near the Rhinos’ line.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding; Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Peacock, Cuthbertson, Garbutt; Ward, Ablett, Delaney. Subs: Leuluai, Achurch, Singleton, Lilley.
St Helens: Quinlan; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Savelio; McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wilkin, Turner. Subs: Walmsley, Richards, Greenwood, Flanagan.