Leeds Rhinos Women 22 York City Knights Women 18: Champions battle back to set-up Headingley Grand Final clash with St Helens
Defending champions Leeds Rhinos will meet St Helens in the Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final at Emerald Headingley on Sunday, October 10.
Rhinos battled back from 10 points down at half-time to pip York City Knights 22-18 in a thrilling semi-final at Saints’ TW Stadium on Sunday.
Leeds were outplayed in the first half, but their class told after the interval as captain and reigning Woman of Steel Courtney Winfield-Hill took a grip on the game, scoring a brilliant solo try and being involved in two touchdowns for winger Sophie Nuttall.
Rhinos coach Lois Forsell admitted her side have “a lot to work on” before the title decider, but was “proud” of the way they fought back.
“The one thing I can’t fault the girls on is they give everything they’ve got,” she said.
“They turn up with plenty of heart and commitment. We didn’t get it right in the first half, but they grouped together and got the result.”
Rhinos, runners-up on the league ladder, went into the game as hot favourites, having won their six previous meetings with York, including a 68-16 victory in the opening game of this season.
But since then York’s director of rugby Lindsay Anfield has recruited strongly - including six players she coached to top spot in Super League with Castleford Tigers two years ago - to transform them from also-rans to contenders.
The Challenge Cup runners-up finished fourth in the regular season and third after the play-offs and had by far the better of the first half, scoring three tries to one.
Leeds went behind after just four minutes when Olivia Wood crossed from a pass by former Rhinos and Castleford Tigers forward Rhiannion Marshall.
Emma Hardy added the extras and scored the try which extended York’s lead after 11 minutes.
Rhinos replied at the end of the first quarter when Nathasha Gaines touched down after Ashleigh Hyde had spilled Hanna Butcher’s kick to Leeds’ right, but York struck again on the half hour.
Olivia Wood was pulled down just short by Caitlin Beevers, but managed to offload to send ex-Castleford star Kelsey Gentles over the line, making it 14-4 at the interval.
Leeds needed something special to get back into the game and their captain came up with it 10 minutes into the second period, Winfield-Hill breaking clear to score from inside her own half and also booting the conversion.
Winfield-Hill was involved again five minutes later, chipping over the defence and regathering. She was tackled, but managed to get the ball away to Orla McCallion and her pass put Nutall over.
Winfield-Hill’s conversion attempt bounced away off an upright, but Leeds went in front eight minutes later.
Winfield-Hill and Fran Goldthorpe moved the ball left to Nuttall and she accelerated away from the defence to score an outstanding try which the skipper improved.
A mistake from the restart handed the ball straight back to York and Hardy ghosted through the defence, but her straight-forward conversion attempt - which could have levelled the scores - hit a post.
With six minutes left, York were caught offside from a kick by Butcher and Winfield-Hill took the two to make it 22-18.
Leeds were denied a fifth try in the final minute when Sophie Robinson stretched over from Winfield-Hill’s pass, but referee Aaron Moore failed to spot she had got the ball down.
Leeds Rhinos: Beevers, Gaines, Robinson, Goldthorp, Nuttall, Butcher, Hill, Lockwood, Hulme, Staveley, Kerrigan, Frain, McCallion. Subs Bennett, Hayward, Hornby, Priim.
Castleford Tigers: Hetherington, Gentles, Renouf, Andrade, Hyde, Hardy, Langan, Field, Peach, Hendry, Kershaw, Wood, Marshall. Subs Tiplady, Sanderson, Stimpson, Clayton.
Referee: Aaron Moore (Wigan).
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