St Helens 40 Leeds Rhinos 6: Saints show Leeds no mercy as tough season finally catches up with Rhinos
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Other than the dismal 26-6 loss at Hull KR in April, Rhinos have been competitive in every game, even when down to the bare bones.
That defeat in East Yorkshire was their widest losing margin, the next-worst being 14 points at home to Castleford Tigers last month. But, against a strong, motivated Saints side on their own TW Stadium turf, this year’s adversity finally caught up with Rhinos who were taken apart 40-6.
It was always going to be a tough night for Leeds, who didn’t have enough big men in the pack. An already bad situation wasn’t helped when James Donaldson was ruled out through illness and as a result, there was little go-forward and Saints made some easy metres.
Alex Walmsley charged through Leeds’ defence to set up two tries and scored another before, as an act of mercy to the visitors, being replaced just before the interval. He returned to cause more chaos in the second half.
What Rhinos – also without all their specialist half-backs – didn’t lack was effort, but they were totally out-gunned in the opening 40.
It could have been much worse, considering Saints led 22-0 after as many minutes. Saints ran in five first half tries to lead 28-6 at the break, but a try just before the interval gave Leeds a shot in the arm and the second period was much more even.
The opening exchanges illustrated what Rhinos were up against. Leeds handed the ball over 40 metres from their line at the end of the first set.
Saints forced a drop-out with their initial use of the ball and from that, Regan Grace went over at the corner.
Rhinos didn’t get into Saints 20 – and barely passed half-way – until four minutes from the interval.
They were aided by a mistake from Grace, who spilled Jack Broadbent’s kick in front of Saints’ posts, giving Leeds a full set close to the hosts’ line.
Leading try scorer Brad Dwyer – who had earlier made a fine tackle to keep Jack Welsby out – took advantage, ducking through from acting-half. Rhyse Martin added the extras.
Leeds did manage some spells of pressure in the second period, Luke Briscoe going close a couple of times and Broadbent making a late break.
Richie Myler, defending at full-back, must have known he’d be in for a busy night and he had a spirited go.
Young hooker Corey Johnson, who quit the game in the 2020 pre-season, was among Leeds’ substitutes, having returned to the sport with Hunslet Club Parkside earlier this year and then on loan at York City Knights from July.
He is an exciting prospect who’ll add depth to the squad and, in only his second Super League game, did not look out of place.
Alex Sutcliffe, who is set to join Castleford Tigers next year, also made his return, coming off the bench for the final 13 minutes, which was his first appearance since suffering an ankle injury at Hull KR.
Rhinos have high hopes for their next generation of young players, several of whom got a go last night. But Saints aren’t looking too shabby in that department either. They were without their two first-choice half-backs – Jonny Lomax and Theo Fages – but Welsby and Lewis Dodd are two outstanding talents.
Welsby scored the hosts’ second try, breaking away from Tom Briscoe and Broadbent on an irresistible surge to the line. He should have been stopped, but even so, it took some scoring.
In the next set, Walmsley ran through Leeds’ defence in the middle of the field, that led to a drop out and in the next set Morgan Knowles powered over.
Then from the restart, Walmsley did it again, running straight over the top of Cameron Smith, shrugging off Martin and sending Tommy Makinson – who was on his shoulder in support – speeding between the posts.
At 22-0 after 23 minutes, Rhinos’ only objective was damage limitation and they managed to share the scoring for the remaining 17 minutes of the half.
On 31 minutes, Myler kicked out on the full from inside Rhinos’ half. Inevitably, in the next set Walmsley crashed over from close range, the conversion making it 28-0, but Dwyer’s try at least gave Leeds something positive to discuss at the interval.
Rhinos struggled to cope with Saints’ kicks behind the defence and the tactic produced the home side’s sixth try, five minutes after the break, when Dodd dabbed the ball through and Sione Mata’utia touched down.
He went off hurt moments later and Saints also lost Mark Percival late on, following a big hit by Luke Briscoe.
There was no more scoring until six minutes from the end when Knowles twisted over for his second try and Lachlan Coote’s sixth goal completed the scoring.
There was a nice moment in the seventh minute when applause rang around the ground, with both sets of fans joining in a chant of ‘only one Robbie Burrow’.
Saints’ singing section broke off from a chorus of ‘we all hate Leeds scum’ and picked it up again immediately the minute ended.
The game was sensibly refereed by Chris Kendall.
The penalty count finished five-three in Leeds’ favour (two-one in the first half) and both teams received one six-again.