A TRY two minutes from time ended Leeds Rhinos’ unbeaten record for the season at St Helens and saw the hosts make it seven wins from seven.
It was an incredible 14-10 victory for the home team, who were missing half a team, had been given an eight-point start on the bookies’ coupons and were behind twice in a thrilling clash.
Leeds will kick themselves for only managing one try – in a game when they forced six drop-outs – five forced by Kevin Sinfield whose kicking game was superb – but Saints were deserved victors for a performance built on passion, pride and enthusiasm.
It seemed the game would end in a draw, but impressive winger Tommy Makinson pounced on a kick by Jonny Lomax to seal maximum points for Saints and leave Rhinos shattered.
Despite the circumstances – Saints were well below strength and the game was played in driving rain – it was a fascinating, high-quality contest, with some outstanding individual contributions.
Full-back Lomax, in particular, was outstanding for the hosts, who were missing seven regulars through injury or suspension, including half-back Luke Walsh, the influential Jon Wilkin and leading props Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor.
But it didn’t show as their youngsters – mixed in with some high-quality old heads – rose to the occasion magnificently, backed by a passionate crowd who seemed determined to do their bit.
In the true spirit of Leeds-Saints games, it was fast, furious and end to end, though clean breaks were kept to a minimum.
Rhinos’ defence had to be strong on their own line from an early Saints penalty, but Carl Ablett’s break – supported by Danny McGuire – led a counter-attack which resulted in successive goal-line drop outs, which were magnificently defended by the hosts.
That sequence set the tone for the opening 40, which finished all square, both tries coming in a five-minute spell.around the quarter-way point.
Defences were ferocious, particularly a hit by the giant Mose Masoe on pint-sized Rob Burrow – who got up, shook himself and carried on – and the handling was pretty good in the conditions, though Leeds made the majority of the errors which did occur.
Leeds went ahead for the second time in the third quarter, but they couldn’t grab the game by the neck and though they levelled after Saints had taken a narrow lead, the hosts always threatened to pull off something special.
Two milestones were achieved as Rhinos went 6-0 ahead after 18 minutes, in the set from their first penalty.
It was a well-worked touchdown, Burrow and Sinfield supplying Ablett, who made some ground and slipped the ball to McGuire in support.
He showed impressive pace to dash in for his first try since the opening game of the season and his 250th career touchdown.
Sinfield added the extras to take his record points tally for Leeds to 3,500.
The lead was short-lived and Rhinos had only themselves to blame.
Kallum Watkins knocked on playing the ball 20 metres out, then Ian Kirke was penalised for lying on in front of the posts and in the subsequent set Anthony Walker went over from James Roby’s pass. Tommy Makinson converted to level the scores on 23 minutes.
Rhinos had been getting on top up to their try, but Saints’ leveller gave them some momentum, though the only other real opportunity of the half came on 38 minutes when Burrow kicked to the corner, but Ryan Hall knocked-on before touching down at the second attempt.
Saints got a standing ovation at the break and they came out strongly in the second period, with Leeds spending the early stages bringing the ball away from their end.
Rhinos, though, regained the lead on 55 minutes when Brett Delaney – who handled a huge workload – went close, Saints were caught offside in front of their posts and Sinfield opted to take the two.
On the hour Leeds forced back-to-back drop outs and only a stunning tackle by Makinson, to wrap Stevie Ward up, kept the hosts out, before McGuire knocked on trying to sneak over from acting-half.
In the next set Josh Jones thought he had touched down to give Saints the lead, but referee Richard Silverwood handed the decision on and video officials Steve Ganson and Phil Bentham decided Walker had knocked-on in midfield. But then Zak Hardaker was shoved behind his own line to concede a drop out, to the fury of the Leeds fans behind the posts and in the subsequent set Makinson dived over at the corner, putting the ball down one-handed.
The video referees checked for a possible obstruction before giving the nod, though Makinson could not add the extras from the touchline.
With 11 left Leeds forced Saints’ sixth drop out and in the resulting set a ball steal by Roby was punished when Sinfield kicked his second penalty to level the game again.
The captain missed with a drop goal attempt with six minutes left and Leeds were punished when Lomax kicked to the corner with the defence nowhere and Makinson kept his nerve to pick up and touchdown.
Three tries to one tells its own story and it was the first time this year Leeds have had their line breached more than twice in a match.
In terms of first-choice players Leeds were much stronger than Saints, but they also suffered some disruption.
Mitch Achurch failed a concussion test after taking a blow to the head against London seven days earlier so Chris Clarkson – who trained with Hunslet Hawks on dual-registration the night before – kept his place on the bench, despite not being named in the initial 19.
Paul Aiton missed out due to illness, but Tom Briscoe, Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Delaney were all back in the starting line-up after being rested for the previous game against London Broncos.
Briscoe’s return meant Ben Jones-Bishop dropped to the bench – though he was unused – while Burrow moved from half-back to replace former Wakefield man Aiton at hooker.
The penalty count finished 4-3 in Leeds’ favour (2-2 in the first half).
Rhinos under-19s hit back from 10-0 down to beat Saints’ academy 30-20 in the curtain-raiser.
Try scorers for Leeds – who led 12-10 at the break – were Ben White, Robbie Ward, Josh Walters, Brad England and Ben Frankland, all of them converted by Jordan Lilley.
The Rhinos team included promising youngsters Elliot Minchella and Rob Mulhern, who both played in the first team last week.