Leeds Rhinos beat St Helens to win Grand Final

Leeds Rhinos celebrate winning during the 2011 Engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. PIC: PA
Leeds Rhinos celebrate winning during the 2011 Engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. PIC: PA
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Leeds came from 16-8 down after an hour to secure a fourth and surely most satisfying Super League title in five years with a scintillating Grand Final victory over St Helens.

The Rhinos, who became the first team to win the title from fifth place, ran in four tries in the final quarter to turn a fabulous game on its head and condemn Saints to a heartbreaking fifth consecutive Old Trafford defeat.

Rob Burrow was the hero for Leeds, scoring one dazzling solo try and creating the vital one for Ryan Hall as he lifted the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match for the second time, this time by a unanimous 37 votes.

The Rhinos’ amazing victory will give them a chance to avenge their 28-20 defeat by Australian champions Manly Sea Eagles in the 2009 World Club Challenge when they meet early in 2012.

The result capped a remarkable transformation in fortunes for Leeds in Brian McDermott’s first season as he became only the third Briton in 14 years to coach a team to Grand Final glory.

His side’s late collapse denied St Helens forward James Graham the chance to bow out on a high, but there was a fitting farewell for Leeds duo Danny Buderus and Wakefield-bound Ali Lauitiiti, who was recalled for his 200th appearance after missing out on Wembley.

Saints should be consoled by playing a full part in a wonderful final, which was action-packed despite dreadful conditions.

An early fumble by Leeds full-back Brent Webb illustrated the difficulties caused by steady drizzle which left water lying on the surface.

The 69,107 crowd had to wait 33 minutes for the first try, but there was no shortage of entertainment with stand-offs Danny McGuire and Lee Gaskell producing some creative play.

Jamie Foster and Kevin Sinfield exchanged penalties but the Rhinos were the more inventive side and deserved their 8-2 interval lead, if only for Burrow’s dazzling footwork.

There were shades of Jason Robinson’s magical try in Wigan’s win over Leeds in the inaugural final in 1998 when the diminutive half-back ducked under the tackle of Scott Moore, wrong-footed Paul Wellens and evaded the last-ditch challenge of James Roby to touch down.

From a position of relative comfort, Leeds relaxed their grip in the third quarter as Saints came roaring back.

They forced four goal-line drop-outs in the first five minutes of the second half and the pressure looked to have paid off when second rower Andrew Dixon won the race to Lomax’s grubber kick over the line.

Video referee Ben Thaler ruled a knock-on, however, and Leeds thought they had weathered the storm.

Sinfield was in the perfect position to put over a drop goal that would have stretched his side’s lead, but his kick went wide and when Jamie Peacock uncharacteristically knocked on, the Rhinos were back under the cosh.

This time Saints made it count with two tries in a devastating five-minute spell.

The first came in bizarre circumstances with referee Phil Bentham ordering another drop-out after Webb appeared to have got to Makinson’s kick.

However, the official was prompted by Roby to go to the video referee after watching Makinson get his hand to the ball just before it went dead and the try was awarded.

Leeds were still on the back foot when Gaskell, one of seven Grand-Final debutants, carved out an opening from a set-piece move for Shenton to go over at the corner for a second try.

Foster missed the touchline conversion but made amends with two penalties, the second from the halfway line after Sinfield had kicked a re-start out on the full.

Saints had gained the ascendancy despite losing Wellens with a leg injury on 48 minutes, but they suffered another body blow on the hour when Shenton went off with a damaged shoulder.

Dixon plugged the gap in the three-quarter line and it was from his attempted tackle that Webb stretched out to score Leeds’ second try just two minutes later.

Sinfield added the goal and kicked a 45-metre penalty to tie the scores before Burrow produced his second decisive act, scampering 40 metres before putting winger Ryan Hall over.

That edged the Yorkshiremen back in front and they made sure of the victory when Ablett forced his way over for a fourth try seven minutes from the end, with teenager Zak Hardaker rubbing salt into St Helens’ wounds with a last-minute score.

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Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

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