The champions are back! For now…
After a horrendous start to the season, with only one (highly unconvincing) win going into last night’s game, Leeds finally reminded us (albeit with some help from Saints) why they’re the Super League champions. For the neutral, this was a pulsating spectacle full of drama, ebb and flow, with the result in the balance for throughout the majority of the game.
“It was a crazy game. It was end-to-end stuff – a bit too fast” said a relieved Brian McDermott at the end of a frenetic encounter. “Some passages both coaches would be unhappy with but then there were some passages both coaches would be pleased with, I certainly was anyway.”
Saints architects of their own destruction… again!
Opposite number Keiron Cunningham was bemused by an early lack of focus from his players, reminiscent of their only other defeat this season against Salford, where they were undone in similar circumstances.
“We don’t seem to get off the bus for the first 10 to 15 minutes when we come to Leeds. We seem to want to give one of the best sides in the comp a leg up. Sixteen points is tough to chase down anywhere, especially at Headingley. The game was really scrappy and really open in that first half. It was whichever side took a grip of the game and kicked the ball best that was going to win it, and we just decided we didn’t want to do that.
Leeds were three tries to the good, two converted, within the first 12 minutes. Just as they had done at the AJ Bell stadium back in February, Saints left themselves a mountain to climb and never got back into the contest.
‘Big Red’ is a scapegoat: this is unfair
A ripple of boos went around the South Stand as Keith Galloway’s name was read out. The Headingley faithful have looked to the towering Aussie to fill the shoes of favourite son Jamie Peacock and in their view Keith is yet to deliver. This is unfair on Galloway, who played well last night, and whose cute offload set up Jones-Buchanan for the Rhinos’ opening try. In truth, the Rhinos pack hasn’t been making the metres needed to build a platform on which Leeds’ vaunted outside backs can shine. There was little evidence of Galloway’s alleged flaws last night, as he and his colleagues in the forwards made good metres and played quick ball, courtesy of the impressive Beau Falloon. In time, ‘Big Red’ will shine – not as the ‘new JP’, but as the first Keith Galloway.
Youth and experience will continue to be a winning combination for Leeds
There’s no question that the return of club stalwarts Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Carl Ablett, both of whom scored tries last night, steadied the ship and settled the nerves of Leeds’ equally impressive youngsters. Liam Sutcliffe’s kicking looks increasingly accomplished, while the interchange performances of Anthony Mullally won’t have gone unnoticed. Man-of-the match Ash Handley was superb in both attack and defence and fully deserved to score the game’s decisive try.
Players yet to return include skipper Danny McGuire, who is on the cusp of match-fitness, and England international Tom Briscoe. Normal service hasn’t quite resumed, but for those at Headingley last night, the consensus was that as far as the Rhinos are concerned, the season starts here.
Leeds (22) 30
Tries: Jones-Buchanan, Cuthbertson, Sutcliffe, Ablett, Handley
Goals: Sutcliffe 5
St Helens (18) 18
Tries: Amor, Walsh, McCarthy-Scarsbrook
Goals: Walsh 3