JUST as Wigan showed their champion class Friday night, St Helens produced an outstanding display Saturday evening to defeat Leeds Rhinos in an epic encounter at Headingley Carnegie.
The similarities were uncanny. The visitors’ determined defence was remarkable at times, similar to Wigan’s iron curtain that enveloped Huddersfield, but errant Leeds also squandered some gilt-edged opportunities to strike just as their fellow Yorkshiremen.
Young centre Kallum Watkins is undoubtedly a brilliant prospect and showed some of the finest pieces of skill tonight but too often over-played to leave debutant winger Zac Hardaker with scraps and his needless penalty while in possession led to Francis Meli’s decisive 63rd minute effort.
Hardaker did score in the 45th minute from a forward Watkins pass which referee Richard Silverwood failed to spot.
That put Leeds 10-6 ahead but they failed to make their dominance pay and St Helens came roaring back.
Ex-Castleford centre Michael Shenton did brilliantly to rise above Ryan Hall to gather a Lee Gaskell crossfield kick and, although Leeds responded when Paul McShane burrowed over, Kevin Sinfield’s conversion putting them back in front, their own defence tired in the final quarter.
Saints, whose half-back Jonny Lomax was excellent in the absence of suspended Kyle Eatsmond, scored tries through Meli, Paul Wellens and Jamie Foster.
Foster had got the game’s first touchdown after 21 minutes, adding the first of his five conversions, but England winger Hall finished well just before the break following Danny Buderus’ class pass for Sinfield’s kick and level at 4-4 following a quality first period.
But then St Helens’ power and accuracy proved too much for Brian McDermott’s side, who are counting the cost of a lengthy injury list.
Rhinos: Webb, Hardaker, Watkins, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Jones-Buchanan, Buderus, Kirke, Hauraki, Lauitiiti, Ablett. Substitutes: Cross, Clarkson, Burgess, McShane.
St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Shenton, Meli, Foster, Gaskell, Lomax, Perry, Roby, Graham, Clough, Flannery, Puletua. Substitutes: Moore, Ashurst, Wheeler, Magennis.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield)