Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott praised his squad’s ruthless execution as they set up another Wembley appearance with a 24-16 Challenge Cup semi-final win over Warrington Wolves.
The West Yorkshire club went into Saturday’s game in mixed form, having won just four of their eight Super League games since overcoming Leigh Centurions in the quarter-final.
But their first-half display at St Helens was tremendous as Leeds – dominant up front, almost error-free and willing to move the ball wide early – secured a 14-0 interval advantage against Tony Smith’s side who have won the competition three times in the last five years.
“It was a very good start from us,” said McDermott. “We were fortunate in the early stages when Warrington had a couple of challenges on our defensive line and it didn’t come off for them, whether it be a late offload or a risky pass, which helped.
“But the players executed our plan really well in the first period.
“There are some great classroom players and classroom coaches and we all think we know the game, but you have to go out and do it.
“Kev (Sinfield) is an expert at nailing the big games and kicking goals, which helps.
“We needed the buffer we had at half-time because we knew what Warrington were going to do in the second half and they certainly challenged us.”
Captain Sinfield scored eight points on his return from a two-game ban and showed all his usual authority but McDermott identified 37-year-old prop Jamie Peacock and second-row Carl Ablett as key players.
“Carl’s a quiet assassin,” he said. “He doesn’t say too much on or off the field, but was very good. He came up with a couple of try-savers and keeps doing those things.
“You’ve got to be able to watch and know a game to realise how much quality Carl comes up with. As for JP, I don’t know what to say about him other than I’m scared to death he may retire.
“We have to have a plan in place for when he packs in.
“I thought Kev and Maggsy (Danny McGuire) and Rob (Burrow) were brilliant and it was a very good team performance, but for me the stand-outs were JP and Ablett.”
Warrington’s former Leeds coach Tony Smith said: “We weren’t meant to win today, but if they (Leeds) are meant to win it, they’ll earn the right to do that.”