St Helens 36 Leeds Rhinos 8: Hosts too good as semi-final loss ends Rhinos season
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Saints have beaten Rhinos three times this year – once in each competition – and, having finished second in the table, clearly deserve to be in the title decider, to face league leaders Catalans Dragons.
Rhinos are an improving team, but this semi-final was an indication of how far they still have to go and at no point did Leeds look capable of winning it.
Other than at the end of the first set, when Lachlan Coote spilled Rob Lui’s kick and through a penalty, Leeds couldn’t get out of their own half for the first 30 minutes.
By that stage, they were 14-0 down and Rhinos were fortunate Saints didn’t lead by a lot more than 10 at the break.
The second period was straightforward as Saints scored two tries to take the game beyond Rhinos and added another after the visitors had grabbed a consolation.
Leeds knew Saints would come out all guns blazing, but could not handle the hosts’ big start. Saints scored after three minutes in both the Challenge Cup tie at the start of the season and the league game three weeks ago, but it took them five to take the lead this time.
Jonny Lomax got the ball to Coote and Regan Grace went over at the corner, Harry Newman and Richie Myler being unable to stop him.
The next 25 minutes were miserable for Rhinos. They needed to be squeaky clean against a team as good as Saints, but Kruise Leeming slung a wild pass into touch 40 out from his own line; there was an early six-again for the hosts and then Ash Handley failed to find touch with a penalty from inside Leeds’ half.
It was an outstanding airborne effort by Coote to keep the ball in play, but errors like that are always likely to prove costly in big games. As it was, Saints settled for two points, after interference by Rhyse Martin.
A penalty did give Leeds somed field position, but Matt Prior knocked on. By that stage, midway through the opening quarter, the only disasters which hadn’t befallen Rhinos were being a man down or losing someone to injury.
On 21 minutes, Tom Briscoe was sin-binned for a high tackle on Coote, who got up to kick the resulting penalty.
As he did so, Mikolaj Oledzki hobbled off, though he did return later. In the next set, Rhinos conceded a six-again and James Roby forced his way over for a try which Coote improved to make it 14-0 after 25 minutes.
The yellow card for Tom Briscoe was the right decision, but Sione Mata’utia was unlucky to join him on the sidelines with 10 minutes remaining in the half.
He whacked Luke Briscoe across the chops and it deserved a penalty, but the Leeds man slipped into the tackle. Mata’utia wouldn’t have been sin-binned if Tom Briscoe hadn’t.
Having made a rod for his own back, referee Chris Kendall showed yet another yellow card five minutes into the second half, to James Donaldson this time for a tackle on a falling Coote.
Kendall kept his cards in his pocket following a skirmish soon after Donaldson’s departure, but sin-binned Morgan Knowles with 13 minutes after an off-the-ball shoulder charge on half-back Leeming.
Rhinos received five penalties to Saints’ four in the first half and the count finished seven-six in Saints’ favour.
Bodene Thompson knocked on from that penalty, though he redeemed himself with a monster hit to jar the ball loose from Agnatius Paasi soon afterwards.
Leeds actually managed a brief spell of pressure from that, but Saints’ defence was too good and when some smart work from Leeming created an overlap on Leeds’ right, Brad Dwyer held on to the ball and the chance was lost.
One of the positives Leeds can take from the second half of this season is the way Newman has come back from 10 months on the sidelines with a badly broken leg. The centre made a superb run out of defence three minutes before the interval, Saints were caught offside and Leeds got on the scoreboard in the resulting set, Myler managing to get the ball down after Newman and Tom Briscoe had handled.
Donaldson was off the field when Mark Percival forced his way over the line from close range on 50 minutes.
Coote sent Kevin Naiqama over for Saints’ fourth try, which the full-back converted, 10 minutes later – after a mistake by Luke Briscoe gave them field position.
Luke Briscoe finished well from Rhyse Martin’s pass in the set after Knowles was banished, but Saints ended the game on top through tries by Mark Percival –which Lewis Dodd created – and a superb finish from Regan Grace. Coote converted both to finish with
It was a disappointing farewell to Leeds for Lui – who has been very good since returning from injury midway through the season and maintained that in his final game – and Konrad Hurrell, who ran strongly in a second- half stint off the bench.
Luke Briscoe is coming out of contract and also seems set to move on, so his try was a well-earned leaving gift after a solid effort throughout this season.
Another departing player, King Vuniyayawa, was included in the initial squad, but not selected as coach Richard Agar went with an unchanged 17 from last week’s win at Wigan Warriors.Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.