St Helens 22-28 Leeds Rhinos
Last night saw Super League leaders St Helens lose their 100% record to a injury hit Leeds Rhinos team as the visitors left with a 28-20 victory and the two points, leaving them two points behind leaders Saints having played one game less.
The build up to the match saw all and sundry write Leeds off as they travelled across the Pennines missing seven players who would be shoe ins for their starting seventeen and the match didn’t start ideally either with Ashton Golding leaving the pitch with a head injury within minutes of kick off. Fortunately for Leeds, despite Brad Dwyer’s availability following injury, coach Brian McDermott opted for 18 year old prodigy Jack Walker on the bench. That meant Leeds didn’t have to play a man out of position at full back and, while playing with sixteen is never ideal, Leeds struck first.
Irish forward Anthony Mullally was criticised in some corners last week after failing to make a real impact against Hull FC but, last night, he crossed the line for the game’s opening score. Handed a rare start due to the Rhinos’ injury list, the former Wakefield prop wriggled his way through and fought off tackles close to the line to give the reigning champions a lead after 20 minutes but, with 28 on the clock, they were behind. Quickfire tries from the hosts saw Ben Barba cross first and then, following superb off the cuff rugby from Danny Richardson and Tommy Makinson, Adam Swift pouched the ball and crashed over for a trademark St Helens try; 12-6 to the hosts. Leeds were very much second best throughout the first half – something McDermott alluded to post match – but went in level thanks to an excellent break. Joel Moon evaded tackles with his customarily elusive footwork and found Tom Briscoe on his right with a brilliant support run. In turn, Briscoe delivered a perfectly timed pass inside to scrum half Richie Myler who crossed for his first try for Leeds. Watkins converted, 12-12 at half time.
Early in the second half, with the game finely poised, Richardson and Watkins exchanged penalty kicks to leave the score at 14-14 but then the visitors, in stark contrast to their first half performance, took total control of the game thanks to a man with a frankly incredible record against his opponents. Ash Handley is very much a back up player for the Rhinos and has only featured this season thanks to injury to first choice left centre Liam Sutcliffe. However, going into last night’s game, he had crossed for eight tries in five games against the Red Vee – and he promptly continued his good run against the hosts. Firstly, Myler’s cross from centre field was aimed at Ryan Hall’s charging run in from the left flank but, as a result of the challenge in the air, the ball was flicked further out for Handley to claim and, under pressure from Swift, cross to put the visitors in the lead once more. Four minutes later, he would go onto bag a brace. Again on the fifth tackle, a loose pass from dummy half close to the line saw Brad Singleton pick the ball up 25 yards from the line and, under pressure, fling the ball infield. Initially looking wayward, Moon managed to grasp it and then promptly delivered some of his genius from midfield. After dodging the initial challenge with a subtle sidestep and breaking the line, he was met by pressure from the hosts’ defence. With men out to his left, he put a grubber kick towards them and, despite hitting Swift’s legs, the deflection only took it closer to the line. Handley touched down, diving, and the visitors had an unlikely 22-14 lead.
Six minutes later, Barba latched onto a swashbuckling Regan Grace break down the left flank and, after sidestepping past Carl Ablett, crossed to make it 20-22 following Richardson’s conversion. Fans of the hosts would have been hoping that would signal the start of a winning end to the game for the league leaders. A minute later, however, and the gap was again at eight points. Ryan Hall’s quick play the ball on the ten metre line opened up space for Matt Parcell to run from dummy half on the second tackle. Under attention from three players and with Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook holding him up, the Australian should never have been able to score a try from the position he was in. However, he somehow got his right arm free to plonk the ball down and Leeds were again in total control at 28-22. That is how the game would finish and Saints’ perfect start to the season was over.
Justin Holbrook: “We created enough chances in the first half. And we were a bit unlucky at times. Tommy Makinson got over the line and couldn’t ground the ball. But, in the second half, Leeds just took their chances.
“We had too many guys not playing well enough. James Roby and Ben Barba were fantastic but too many others weren’t.”
Brian McDermott: “I don’t think we were crash hot and I won’t say it was a really good performance – it won’t get us anywhere near the Grand Final – but it’s good to know we can come here with a lesser team and, by tenacious defence and great attitude, still win.”