WHAT is it they say about cometh the hour, cometh the somebody or other….?
He has done it countless times before during his 19 years with Leeds Rhinos but Kevin Sinfield – in his final game for the club at Headingley before switching codes – repeated the trick yet again last night.
The trick? Delivering some pure brilliance just when his side needed him most.
Trailing defending champions St Helens 13-8 in an utterly absorbing Super League semi-final last night, with just 12 minutes remaining, Leeds were under immense pressure, this suddenly looking like being Sinfield’s, Jamie Peacock’s and Kylie Leuluai’s last-ever game before they hang up their boots.
However, the captain’s pinpoint 40/20 kick – the 35 year-old’s first of the season and just after Peacock had denied a raiding James Roby from scoring – relieved it all and set up crucial attacking position. They were in range.
Myriad players went close, none more so than Kallum Watkins who was brilliantly dragged down by Adam Quinlan just short, but then the ball was moved left where Joel Moon, inspired at centre last night, stooped low to take a pass and send Ryan Hall hurtling towards the line.
The England winger, whose 200th club try in the last-second at Huddersfield last Friday delivered Leeds the League Leaders’ Shield, did his bit.
That meant, it was left to Sinfield to do his and, typically, he did, duly slotting the not easy kick to give his side the lead for the first time. Headingley rose as one.
When Watkins picked up a desperate St Helens loose offload in the final seconds to race in untouched from 30m, you could not hear yourself think amid the electric 17,192 crowd as Sinfield slotted the conversion.
All of which means the dream lives on – that unprecedented treble for the West Yorkshire club is now just 80 minutes away.
Brian McDermott’s side will play Wigan Warriors in the Grand Final in a week’s time looking to make sure the legendary trio of Sinfield, Peacock and Leuluai do all ride off into retirement in what would be the perfect send-off for three sterling players who have done so much not just for Leeds (almost four decades combined service) but the sport of rugby league.
Former England captain Sinfield said: “I think we were very fortunate. We were playing against a champion team and to get the win in the end was very, very special.
“It’s a few fellas’ last game here tonight and and there was a fair bit of emotion kicking around before the game but it was important we got the job done.
“They are a really, really good side Saints and to get the win in the end was fantastic.
“I just thought it was a great advert for the game to produce something like that when it was such nip and tuck for so long. It was brilliant for British rugby league.”
Saints are not champions for no reason. Last night they defended their title with all the pride. passion and steel you would expect when so close to Old Trafford.
But they just fell short, looking like the walking wounded in the second half as they almost produced an heroic win.
Unlike the event 24 hours earlier, this was a quality semi-final, Saints holding the slenderest of 9-8 advantages at the interval only due to Luke Walsh’s drop goal with 24 seconds of the half remaining.
Carl Ablett thought he had forced his way over for Leeds in the 48th minute but the video officials rightly overturned Robert Hicks’s onfield decision of try. Instead, after Saints had come close following the excellent Kyle Amor’s bustling run, it was the visitors who struck on the hour.
Joe Greenwood stripped possession from Hall 40m from the Leeds line and Jon Wilkin instantly turned defence into attack to see Jordan Turner send Mark Percival diving in at the corner.
Walsh could not convert so his side still only led 13-8 and, ultimately, it would never be enough.
Earlier, Turner may have dropped Zak Hardaker’s kick-off but it was the hosts who looked most nervous early on especially when Roby bumped, twisted and surged his way through some feeble defence on an angled run for the game’s opening ty in the seventh minute.
Walsh slotted the first of his three kicks but Saints escaped when Moon made the first of numerous breaks from the Australian centre, only for Tom Briscoe to spill under pressure from Adam Swift as the England winger diver at the corner.
Walsh added a penalty but, when Atelea Vea went high on Rob Burrow, an intricate handling movement involving McGuire and Watkins was finished off by Zak Hardaker, the full-back who could be crowned Man of Steel on Monday night.
Sinfield converted and then levelled with a penalty ready for that epic second half to unfold.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Garbutt, Delaney, Ablett, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Peacock, Singleton, Keinhorst, Lilley.
St Helens: Quinlan; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Turner, Walsh; Masoe, Roby, Amor, Vea, Wilkin, Flanagan. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Savielo, Greenwood, Walmsley.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham)