Leeds Rhinos are 80 minutes away from an historic treble and the perfect farewell for their departing legends.
The Challenge Cup holders and League Leaders’ Shield will face Wigan Warriors in the Grand Final at Old Trafford a week today after a thrilling 20-13 win over St Helens in a magnificent Super League semi-final last night.
It was Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock’s final game at Headingley before retirement and Sinfield’s last there as a Rhinos player.
Now all three will bow out in a title decider on rugby league’s biggest stage, which is nothing more than they deserve.
All three played a part, but Sinfield was magnificent and a worthy man of the match, his 40-20 kick setting up the field position for the try which gave Rhinos the lead with just 10 minutes left.
It seemed his conversion would be his final kick in rugby league at Headingley, but Leeds sealed the tensest of wins with a try on the final play, which their captain improved after the hooter.
Leeds were worthy winners, but it was tough on Saints who were excellent and looked for a long time as though they would snatch it.
Rhinos made a shaky start, going 8-0 down inside 16 minutes. At that stage they looked weary, were dropping off tackles and making errors.
But they dug deep to claw their way back into the contest, levelling matters with 13 minutes of the half remaining.
It looked like staying that way until the break, which would have been a fair reflection, but a drop goal on the final play edged Saints narrowly in front.
That single point separated the sides until the hour when Saints added an unconverted try, but Leeds regained the lead with 10 minutes left and weren’t unduly troubled after that.
The crowd was 17,192, including a big away following and they created one of the best atmospheres at the ground in recent seasons.
Leeds applied the early pressure, after Jordan Turner – selected at stand-off ahead of Travis Burns – dropped Zak Hardaker’s kick-off, but Saints struck first with a try out of nothing on six minutes.
It came following a scrum, after Kallum Watkins’ knock-on, but was entirely down to James Roby, the hooker spinning and twisting away from acting-half a long way out.
It was brilliant work by Roby, though Rhinos would be disappointed not to have kept him out.
Luke Walsh converted and Leeds missed a great chance six minutes later.
Joel Moon’s superb run out of defence – one of two similar defence-splitting charges from the centre in the opening period – started the attack, then Sinfield and Watkins moved the ball wide and Tom Briscoe got over at the corner.
He tried to put the ball down with his right hand, in Adam Swift’s tackle, but it came loose and video referees Ben Thaler and Richard Silverwood confirmed Robert Hicks’ no try call.
In the next set Tommy Makinson dashed clear, but Danny McGuire prevented a try by intercepting his pass, aimed at Adam Quinlan.
McGuire made another interception, on 16 from Walsh’s pass, but he was offside and Walsh took the two.
At the start of the second quarter a dart by Rob Burrow was ended by a high tackle from Atelea Vea and Leeds scored in the resulting set.
It was a well-worked try, Hardaker bouncing over through Mark Percival’s attempted tackle after Burrow, Sinfield, McGuire and Watkins had linked in the build up.
Sinfield converted, then squared things with a penalty, on 27, after interference by Roby on Watkins.
With seconds of the half remaining, McGuire kicked out on the full and the subsequent attack almost led to a try, Hardaker producing the tackle to keep Tommy Makinson out.
The winger was hurt in the attempt, but with no backs on Saints’ bench he tried to play on, but was clearly struggling and was taken off in the third quarter.
That near miss was an escape for Leeds and Saints had to settle for a point, Walsh booting a clever drop goal to make it 9-8 at the interval.
Leeds had the best chance at the start of the second half when Hall made a thrilling run from near his own line, but Quinlan’s defence at full-back was just as good, then a Saints hand deflected Watkins’ pass away from Briscoe, who would have been a certain scorer if he’d taken it.
With the tension mounting, Makinson defied his injury to pull off a stunning tackle on Hall, then Ablett forced his way over.
Referee Hicks said try, but handed it on. Silverwood and Thaler, despite taking an age, saw enough to convince them the man in the middle was wrong and they decided the Leeds forward had been held up, possibly by Andre Savelio’s foot. Having absorbed huge pressure, Saints nearly extended their lead on the counter, but Hardaker managed to halt Kyle Amor just short.
On the hour Hall surged out of defence, Joe Greenwood stripped the ball and Jon Wilkin picked up.
He fed Turner and his final pass was finished by Percival. Hicks handed the decision on as a try and the video referees gave the green light.
That was the correct decision, the ball having gone back towards Saints’ line when it was pulled out.
Walsh could not convert, so Leeds were still in, five points adrift.
With 11 minutes left, Sinfield landed a terrific 40-20.
Quinlan made a sensational tackle to keep Watkins out, but Saints cracked on the same attack Moon, who had a stormer, cut inside and fed Hall and the big winger forced his way over.
Again Hicks handed it on as a try and the video duo agreed. Sinfield landed the angled conversion to make it 14-13.
Saints never gave in, but Leeds managed to keep them at arm’s length and with 61 seconds left Mose Masoe tried to offload deep in his own territory and Watkins snapped up the loose ball and burst over to spark memorable celebrations.
The hooter went before Sinfield converted.
Peacock started his final game at Headingley on the bench.
Leuluai, a substitute last week, was in the starting front-row, swapping places with Brad Singleton.
Leeds’ only personnel change was Jimmy Keinhorst’s recall in place of knee injury victim Stevie Ward.
Keinhorst was on the bench and Brett Delaney stepped up to start.
For the second successive game, Jordan Lilley was an unused substitute.
The penalty count finished 5-4 in Rhinos’ favour (3-2 to Leeds in the first half).