HEADINGLEY’S famous South Stand has witnessed some great matches and memorable moments in its 86 years, but its final game wasn’t among them.
Rhinos sent the stand, which will now be demolished, out on a positive note with a 16-14 win over St Helens, but it was a poor game.
Rhinos trailed 8-2 at the break after a dull first half in which there were only a couple of free-flowing moves, mainly due to both teams’ inability to hold on to the ball.
The difference was Rhinos didn’t finish theirs and Saints did. The half-time parade of past Leeds players was much more entertaining than the rugby and it was a shame a few of them hadn’t brought their boots.
To their credit Leeds stepped up in the second half. They squared the scores soon after the interval, hit the front with 16 minutes left and wrapped up their scoring with a penalty soon afterwards.
Neither team played particularly well, though Leeds were the better team in the second half and deserved the points, despite a late scare when Saints pulled a try back.
Saints scored first after 10 minutes. Tom Briscoe caught a towering bomb from Matty Smith on the bounce and was trapped in goal.
From the drop out Stevie Ward was penalised for interference on former Leeds prop Kyle Amor and Mark Percival took the two from in front of the posts.
Ward conceded a penalty with a high shot following the restart, but Kallum Watkins made a terrific tackle on Jonny Lomax and Ward did well to keep Percival out.
Smith’s kick to the corner forced Ryan Hall to concede a drop out and then Danny McGuire was penalised, but a fumble by Smith let Rhinos off the hook.
Rhinos levelled after 19 minutes when Saints were caught not square at marker in front of their own posts and Watkins booted the penalty.
Just five minutes later Percival had a chance to edge the visitors back in front with another penalty. That was awarded for interference by Matt Parcell on Jon Wilkin and looked harsh, but justice was done when the kick was hooked wide.
Parcell was Leeds’s best player and clearly enjoyed his contest with opposite number James Roby.
After a lively opening the game went completely off the boil with both teams making a series of handling errors and struggling to get to the end of sets.
Leeds should have scored when Parcell made a break and found Carl Ablett who sent Liam Sutcliffe charging down the left-centre channel with Hall on his inside, but he opted not to pass and ran straight into the last defender.
A brilliant run by Saints’ young winger Regan Grace on a free play took play to the other end, but Percival knocked-on.
It looked like the half would end tryless, but Saints finally managed to string a move together five minutes before the break.
Roby made the initial ground from inside his own half. Taia was in support and drew the full-back before passing to Lomax who crossed unopposed.
Percival added the extras to make it 8-2 at the break, Smith missing with a drop goal attempt.
It was the second successive half in which Leeds had failed to cross their opponents’ line and Leeds would have been further adrift five minutes into the second half if Dominique Peyroux had been able to find a team-mate with an offload in front of Leeds’s posts, though the hosts’ scrambling defence deserved credit.
A couple of minutes later Rhinos were level. Saints conceded a penalty and Brad Singleton, Joel Moon and Walker moved the ball left to Sutcliffe and his pass put Hall over for his 221st Leeds try in his 300th appearance.
Watkins’s conversion levelled the scores, but he missed with a penalty with 22 minutes left.
Rhinos finally managed to apply some pressure thanks to a series of repeat sets. Saints scrambled superbly to keep them out, but the dam broke when Adam Cuthbertson crashed over for his 11th try of the campaign.
Watkins’s goal made it 14-8 and he opened a two-score gap with a penalty after Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook had tackled Moon without the ball. That proved crucial as Danny Richardson pulled a try back and Percival’s conversion narrowed the gap to two points.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins, L. Sutcliffe, Hall, Moon, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Singleton, Ward, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett. Substitutes: Mullally, Keinhorst, Burrow, Delaney.
St Helens: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Fages, Smith, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Wilkin, Knowles. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Walmsley, Peyroux, Richardson.
Referee: B Thaler (RFL).