St Helens 28 Leeds Rhinos 0: Defending champions outclassed by treble-winners in Women's Super League Grand Final
Leeds Rhinos' reign as champions came to an end when they were outclassed 28-0 by St Helens in front of a Women’s Super League record crowd of 4,235 at Emerald Headingley.
Saints comprehensively added the Grand Final trophy to their Challenge Cup and league leaders’ shield haul, 24 hours after their men’s side had triumphed at Old Trafford.
Rhinos trailed only 10-0 towards the end of the third quarter, but Saints had been in control from the start and underlined their surperiority with four tries in the final 23 minutes as Leeds ran out of gas.
This defeat - and especially the scoreline - will and should hurt.
Even so, Rhinos can reflect on a good season, having lost only twice all year - both times to Saints.
Injuries to established players meant a host of youngsters got an opportunity and they will be better for the experience.
Saints are the fourth different champions in as many years, after Bradford Bulls, Wigan Warriors and Rhinos and the remarkable growth of the women’s game is a real success story at a difficult time generally for rugby league.
Saints have clearly been the best side this season.
Rhinos are probably the only team who can give them a game, but they made little headway against an outstanding defence and, though they tackled spiritedly, they were broken down by a couple of smart kicks and some outstanding individual skill.
The way the scoreline blew out late on was harsh on Leeds, but Saints managed to convert only two of their six tries so it could have been worse for Rhinos, who were officially the ‘away’ team having finished behind Saints on the league table.
Saints were reduced to 12 players after 11 minutes when Woman of Steel Jodie Cunningham prevented Rhinos’ Caitlin Beevers from taking a quick tap restart and was sin-binned.
But Leeds failed to create an opportunities during Cunningham’s spell off the field and Saints opened the scoring moments before their loose-forward’s return.
Leeds had the first chance when Sophie Nuttall made a fine catch from Winfield-Hill’s kick, but the winger was pulled down close to the line and they rarely got in striking distance after that.
Nuttall was involved in a tackle to halt Zoe Harris just short and then assisted Beevers to shove Leah Burke into touch after Saints had created an overlap on their right.
But Rhinos were hanging on and back-to-back penalties led to Saints opening try, midway through the first half.
Chantelle Crowl was held up over Leeds’ line before Harris dabbed a kick in goal and Burke got the ball down despite Nuttall’s attempted tackle.
Referee Aaron Moore’s decision of ‘try’ was supported by video official Marcus Griffiths.
Six minutes before the interval Nuttall was hurt as she and Orla McCallion combined to deny Carrie Roberts a try at the corner. There was a long stoppage as she was treated on the field before being taken off on a stretcher.
The pivotal moment in the game came just before the break, after Winfield-Hill had given Leeds a rate attacking opportunity with a brilliant kick which held up in goal to force a drop out. A mix-up between Sophie Robinson and Hannah Butcher handed possession straight back to Saints from their kick and in the resulting set Cunningham showed why she has been the top player in Women’s Super League this year, slicing through the middle for a brilliant solo try which Bethany Stott converted.
Rather than being only four points adrift - or possibly ahead if they had been able to make something of the drop-out - Rhinos went in 10-0 behind.
Against a defence as dominant as Saints’, pulling that back never seemed likely. Rhinos’ only real spell of pressure in the first half came following a Saints knock-on deep in their territory, but their right-side defence did a good job of keeping Beevers out before Kerea Bennett was halted just short.
They had a glimmer soon after the break when Winfield-Hill’s kick picked out Goldthorp, but her pass went off Sam Hulme into touch.
There was nothing in it for 17 minutes, but Saints scored back-to-back tries to take a firm hold on the trophy.
Their third touchdown was an almost identical score to the opener, Burke stretching out to get a hand on Harris’ grubber to the in-goal.
In a press box poll, Harris was a unanimous choice as player of the match, though the official award went to Crowl.
In the next set, Amy Hardcastle accelerated through the middle of the field for a brilliant individual score and though neither was converted, at 18-0 there was no way back for Leeds.
Saints added a fifth try with 13 minutes left when Harris crossed from Cunningham’s pass - Stott converting - and the same player then sent Danielle Bush in on the other flank.
St Helens: Woosey, Bush, Roberts, Hardcastle, Burke, Stott, Harris, Rudge, Jones, Crowl, Williams, Rudge, Cunningham. Subs Rotheram, Birchall, Whitfield, Travis.
Leeds Rhinos: Beevers, Gaines, Robinson, Godthorp, Nuttall, Butcher, Winfield-Hill, Staveley, Bennett, Hornby, Kerrigan, Frain, McCallion. Subs Priim, Hulme, Murray, Lockwood.
Referee: Aaron Moore (Wigan).
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