Leeds Rhinos 20
Tries: Hardaker, Hall, Watkins
Goals: Sinfield 4/4
St Helens 13
Tries: Roby, Percival
Goals: Walsh 2/3
Drop Goals: Walsh
Leeds Rhinos fought back from 8-0 down to book their place at in next Saturday’s Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Reigning champions St Helens led 13-8 with less than 15 minutes to play but a Kevin Sinfield 40/20 proved pivotal as the Rhinos ran out 20-13 winners at Headingley.
Tries from Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins, along with eight points the departing Sinfield kept the Rhinos hopes of completing the treble in 2015. alive
James Roby and Mark Percival crossed in vein for the visitors, who have lost four of the five meetings with the Rhinos this season.
Hooker Roby gave the visitors an ideal start with a try after six minutes. The England international showed neat footwork to spin out of three attempted tackles before wrong-footing Hall to score next to the posts.
Luke Walsh, who converted Roby’s try, then kicked a penalty 10 minutes later after Danny McGuire was penalised for offside, extending the defending champions lead to 8-0.
One of three Man of Steel nominees involved on the night, Zak Hardaker, scored the hosts first points of the evening midway through the first half after McGuire and Watkins had combined to send the full back over. Sinfield added the extras to reduce the arrears to just two points.
The Rhinos skipper, who is switching codes at the end of the season, then levelled the game up with a penalty after Roby was penalised for interference at the play the ball.
Tommy Makinson was denied a try by a brilliant covering tackle from Hardaker close to the line, but Saints did hold an advantage at the break through Walsh’s drop goal seconds before the half time hooter.
Winger Makinson was clearly struggling with the after effects of that Hardaker tackle at the start of the second half, but he did brilliantly to stop Rob Burrow from scoring down the St Helens right edge.Carl Abblett thought he had put Leeds in front on the next play, but the Saints defence managed to prevent him from grounding the ball.
Kyle Amor went close for Saints soon after, Hardaker denying the prop five metres out as the action went from end to end.
Both sets of defences were sensational but Mark Percival did manage cross for Saints on the hour. Joe Greenwood knocked the ball out of Halls grasp backwards after the winger had made a break through the middle and Jon Wilkin collected it and moved it to Halls vacated flank before finding Jordan Turner who sent Percival over to extend the lead.
Walsh failed to land the difficult conversion attempt from out wide but the visitors held a 13-8 lead.
The turning point came 13 minutes from time, however, when Sinfield kicked a 40/20 to set the platform for Hall’s try.
After Adam Quinlan had stopped Watkins from going over, Hall made a dart for the line after taking a reverse pass from Joel Moon. Percival did well to prevent the big winger from grounding the ball initially but Hall wouldn’t be denied, eventually touching down on the line. Referee Robert Hicks sent the decision up to the video referees who adjudged Hall had sufficient control and awarded the try.
Sinfield slotted over the extras to put the Rhinos ahead for the first time on the night with the score 14-13.
With just 90 seconds left to play Saints tried to keep the ball alive in their own half, Walsh palmed the ball back and Watkins was the first to react, gathering the loose ball and strolling over to secure the Rhinos place at Old Trafford.
In his 250th and final Rhinos appearance at Headingley, Sinfield added the extras after the hooter had sounded to seal a memorable 20-13 victory.
The Rhinos will now face Wigan Warriors in next Saturday’s Grand Final – a repeat of the inaugrial Super League Grand Final in 1998.
Man of the Match: Kevin Sinfield – 40/20 with Leeds under pressure turned the whole game. 100% with the boot and was the hero for Leeds when they needed one.