WHATEVER HAPPENS over the 80 minutes, Leeds Rhinos will set a semi-final record tonight.
This year is the club’s 46th appearance in the last four of the Challenge Cup, which is more than any other club.
Leeds have appeared at the semi-final stage in 18 of the last 23 Cup competitions stretching back to 1992-93 and this will be their 15th out of a possible 20 in the summer era.
They already hold an unwanted mark with 21 defeats and if they win they will be through to their 25th final – a total only Wigan can beat.
Rhinos and Saints have both won the Cup 12 times and have been arch rivals in the competition this century, with tonight being their sixth semi-final meeting since 2001.
Saints, who have won 21 and lost 13 of their previous semi-finals, won in 2001, 2002 and 2008, with Leeds triumphing in 2003 and 2010.
In the summer era the teams also faced off in the fifth round in 1999 (Leeds 24 St Helens 16), 2000 (Leeds 26 Saints 20), 2004 (Saints 24 Leeds 14) and 2014 (Leeds 32 Saints 12) and the fourth round of the 2009 tournament, when Saints won 22-18 at Headingley.
Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield, whose first semi-final was in 2000 against Hull at Huddersfield, is set to make his 11th appearance at this stage of the competition.
He has scored points in 21 consecutive games against St Helens, a streak which started in the 2008 Super League Grand Final.
Sinfield was one of the heroes of the 2003 semi-final, at Huddersfield, which is rated as the greatest in the competition’s history. Rhinos were staring defeat in the face when Darren Smith touched down to give Saints a 26-20 lead with five minutes remaining.
Paul Sculthorpe could have made certain, but his conversion attempt was off target and Rhinos had three minutes to find an equaliser.
They regained the ball when Saints knocked on from the restart and then Danny McGuire’s kick was knocked on by Smith and Tim Jonkers picked up in an off-side position. Leeds tapped the penalty and, on the third tackle, McGuire – in only his 19th senior game – dummied over from acting-half for a try which was confirmed by the video referee.
That left Sinfield with the final kick of the 80 minutes, tight to the right-hand touchline, to send the tie into extra time. He landed the goal to make it 26-26 – the highest tied score at the end of normal time in a Cup semi-final.
The game was the first at that stage of the competition to go into extra-time and, at the end of the first 10 minutes, Sinfield kicked a drop goal to nudge Leeds ahead, seconds after Saints had seen a touchdown ruled out by the video ref.
Saints’ Mickey Higham went close to snatching a winning try two minutes from the end of the second period, but then David Furner supplied Sinfield and his pass sent McGuire weaving away to cross at the corner. Sinfield landed the touchline goal to seal a 33-26 victory.
Leeds went on to lose the final by two points to a Bradford Bulls team captained by Jamie Peacock.
Like Sinfield, Peacock will be making his last appearance in a semi-final tonight and his 10th in total, his first also being in 2000.