Leeds Rhinos produced a stellar second-half performance to claim a 28-20 victory at the Totally Wicked Stadium and end St Helens’ unbeaten start to the season.
Despite the visitors being under the cosh for much of the first 40 minutes, the teams went in level at 12-apiece at the break.
After Anthony Mullally twisted his way over past four defenders to open the scoring, the Saints took the front with two converted tries.
Ben Barba dummied his way to the line after a ball shift from right to left, before Danny Richardson created a moment of magic, skirting alongside the touchline before launching the ball inside to Tommy Makinson, who flicked it almost instantaneously for Adam Swift to score in the corner.
Nevertheless, Brian McDermott’s men equalised matters as Richie Myler was on hand to score after a good break and pass from Joel Moon and Tom Briscoe.
Both teams traded early second half penalties, before Ash Handley scored his ninth try in six games against Justin Holbrook’s men, reacting first to a loose ball after Myler’s kick caused chaos in the defensive line.
Handley then bagged a brace as Joel Moon’s skidding kick was missed by Saints winger Swift, stretching their advantage to eight.
The home side set up a grand stand finish with ten minutes left as Barba bagged his sixth of the season with yet another dummy following Regan Grace’s wonderful charge downfield.
Despite this, Leeds wrapped up the two points with four minutes left, hooker Matt Parcell catching St Helens’ markers napping to take the spoils back to West Yorkshire.
Smash and Grab?
Brian McDermott told his players at half time that they were “lucky” to still be in the game. He will have been delighted with how his depleted side reacted after the restart.
They showed wonderful defence to keep themselves in the game, and used the kicking game of both Moon and Myler to take it away from their hosts.
Leeds weren’t at their sparkling best, but still found a way to dig out a result. Some may say that this could be the first signs of yet another championship-winning squad in the making.
Saints Rue Silly Mistakes
The scoreboard may say Leeds scored five tries yet Justin Holbrook will know that at least four of their efforts were easily avoidable from a defensive point of view.
Both of Handley’s instinctive finishes came off the back of kicks that were poorly dealt with. In addition, the Saints will be seething that Anthony Mullally’s was able to overpower four defenders with ease to kick off proceedings.
The killer was Leeds’ final score, with slack marking allowing the visitors to secure the win just minutes after Ben Barba had got his team back into things.
If St Helens have title hopes this year, defensive lapses like yesterday’s need to be a one-off.
Man Of The Match- Joel Moon
Moving from the centres to the halves has been a revelation for Joel Moon, and full credit must go to coach McDermott for making it happen.
He wreaked havoc all evening, causing the Saints problems with his ability to break through their defensive rear-guard with seeming ease.
He and Myler are forging quite the partnership in the halves- the Rhinos know a long-lasting half-back partnership when they see one too!
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook:
“We created enough chances in the first half. And we were a bit unlucky at times. Tommy Makinson got over the line and couldn’t ground the ball. But, in the second half, Leeds just took their chances.
“We had too many guys not playing well enough. James Roby and Ben Barba were fantastic but too many others weren’t.
“Leeds worked harder and beat us to the punch.”
Justin Holbrook said Leeds were still the team to beat.. maybe he was right. A quintessential Leeds performance, that; fancied by very few people but go and upset the form book. With so many young kids in that side, that’s one helluva win for the Rhinos
— Aaron Bower (@AaronBower) March 16, 2018
Leeds coach Brian McDermott:
“At times it looked pretty clunky. I was pretty disappointed with the first half. But we certainly turned it up. My old coach Peter Fox used to say: ‘If you are willing to tackle the opposition to death you have a chance of winning games.’ That’s what we did.
“I don’t think we were crash hot and I won’t say it was a really good performance – it won’t get us anywhere near the Grand Final – but it’s good to know we can come here with a lesser team and, by tenacious defence and great attitude, still win.
“We were without four big men but Brad Singleton and Anthony Mullally put in big shifts and I’ve got to pay tribute to Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney and Carl Ablett. They got through so much work.”
St Helens 20
Tries: Barba 2, Swift
Goals: Richardson 4/4
Drop Goals: n/a
Tries: Mullally, Myler, Handley 2, Parcell
Goals: Watkins 3/4 Myler 1/1
Drop Goals: n/a
St Helens: Barba; Swift, Makinson, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin.
Interchange: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Lees.
Leeds: Golding; Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall; Moon, Myler; Mullally, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Delaney.
Interchange: Walker, Smith, Oledzki, Walters.
Referee: James Child (RFL)