THERE was not any of those red-faces to be seen anywhere this time around.
Twelve months ago, some critics rather foolishly blamed Leeds Rhinos’ shambolic 46-6 defeat at St Helens on the fact their squad had dyed their hair red in aid of Sporting Relief.
The manner of that vanquishing – a third successive year they had leaked 40 points or more at Saints – certainly left the West Yorkshire club embarrassed, but there could never be any doubting their professionalism or integrity.
Of course, they went on to retain their Super League title and last night they reminded everyone of the stellar class that runs through them with their first win on Merseyside in five years.
They delivered a far more resilient and dogged display this time around to move into third and set up a fascinating clash with early leaders Huddersfield Giants at Headingley Carnegie next Friday.
It was the perfect antidote to the pain of narrowly losing last week’s epic World Club Challenge against Melbourne Storm although this absorbing and fiercely-fought contest was not really settled until the unlikely figure of Kylie Leuluai popped up on the hour mark.
The veteran Samoan prop, who had not scored since last August, missed much of the first half with a bleeding nose but returned, bizarrely, to almost cross three times in quick succession.
He did so at the final attempt when Ryan Hall took Danny McGuire’s crossfield kick and, as Saints winger Ade Gardner strangely stood back, off-loaded one-handed to the 34-year-old who barrelled over.
Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield, who had fallen one short of equalling Featherstone player Liam Finn’s record of 42 consecutive club kicks when he missed the first-half conversion of Hall’s opening try, converted to make it 14-4.
Hall shrugged off a dead leg to add his second try in the very next set, some amazing footwork through the middle by Rob Burrow followed up just as impressively by an evasive Joel Moon who did the damage.
That, in effect, ended some brave resilience from injury-ravaged Saints who have still yet to win at home under ex-Huddersfield Giants coach Nathan Brown, although two late Francis Meli tries did reduce the deficit.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott largely kept faith with the side that pushed Melbourne so close a week earlier with Mitch Achurch replaced by Richard Moore.
In fairness, Saints were good value given their injury woes, teenage England Academy centre Mark Percival making a quality debut although ex-Batley Bulldogs prop Alex Walmsley – caught up in the traffic chaos after an accident on the M62 – was denied a first Super League start after being pulled out after the warm-up.
Leeds had nudged ahead 8-4 by the interval, overcoming a slightly erratic start to eventually finish the half in command.
Admittedly, Saints’ ex-Hull centre Jordan Turner sailed the kick-off directly into touch to gift them an early opportunity and, when the hosts were caught offside on their own line, Sinfield was handed an easy couple of points inside just two minutes.
But after Stevie Ward – so impressive against Melbourne – messed up a play-the-ball and Leeds were then penalised for interference, they were soon found wanting.
Makeshift half-back Jon Wilkin took control and sucked in Carl Ablett – who had one eye on Willie Manu’s looming presence – to open up a gaping hole for Jonny Lomax who jinxed through in the ninth minute, showing just why full-back might yet be his ideal position.
The England Knights scrum-half had notched a hat-trick from there last week at Bradford in the absence of injured Paul Wellens and continued to show some timely touches last night.
Ward then knocked on as Leeds struggled to get into their stride, McGuire’s pass ending up in touch after Ablett came under more pressure while Moon went high on Gardner to further encourage Saints.
However, the visitors’ swarming and enthusiastic defence, so prevalent against the NRL champions, ensured the hosts were forced into plenty of errors.
One such mistake, after great kick pressure saw Wilkin’s downfield kick barely reach halfway, resulted in another penalty which Sinfield easily slotted in the 24th minute.
Leeds then found their groove and a fine Jamie Jones-Buchanan off-load unleashed Sinfield, whose smart dummy saw him escape for McGuire to put Hall over three minutes later.
The England captain failed to convert from side out, missing that record, but it would not matter.
Manu somehow denied Ian Kirke with a desperate lunge on the Saints goalline early in the second period but, equally so, Chris Clarkson was required to crucially drag down Turner after Sia Solioloa’s burst up the middle on the last tackle.
Leuluai then twice went close from near in before – after luckless Gary Wheeler became the latest Saints injury victim with a hamstring strain – the Exiles forward finally got the try that clinched it, Sinfield improving.
St Helens: Lomax; Gardner, Turner Percival, Meli; Wheeler, Wilkin; Laffranchi, Roby, Walker, Soliola, Manu, Puletua. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Clough, Jones, Greenwood.
Leeds Rhinos: Watkins; Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Ward, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: McShane, Kirke, Clarkson, Moore.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).