St Helens 40 Leeds Rhinos 6: Rampant Alex Walmsley blasts through Rhinos
Leeds Rhinos have not yet secured their spot in the Betfred Super League play-offs and, so, will host Hull KR next Friday knowing everything is on the line.
In fairness, Richard Agar’s injury-ravaged side were never likely to get home and hosed tonight given they were in action at back-to-back champions St Helens.
Saints were miffed after losing in Golden Point extra-time against Catalans Dragons last weekend, a defeat which also saw them lose any chance of claiming the League Leaders’ Shield.
They were hurting. And, as they tied up second spot here, Alex Walmsley certainly made sure Leeds knew it.
Rhinos were 22-0 down after just 23 minutes having been blown apart by Saints or, more precisely, the gargantuan prop.
Rarely can one player have inflicted so much damage on a team as the mountainous England front-row did during his opening half-hour stint.
He helped them score three back-to-back tries with two thunderous runs after Jack Welsby had put Saints 12-0 up.
Firstly, Walmsley powered through Kruise Leeming and Tom Holroyd near halfway before rampaging into open space to set up yet another attacking position.
From there, Morgan Knowles twisted through some further meek defence to score and, from the restart, Walmsley was at it again.
This time, from inside his own 20, the Dewsbury-born front-row bludgeoned his way over the top of Cameron Smith to once more break clear.
England team-mate Tommy Makinson, a more likely candidate to sprint in, offered support and duly claimed his fifth try of the season.
When Richie Myler, the Leeds full-back who helped clear up some initial pressure by negating a succession of testing Saints kicks, put a kick out on the full, Kristen Woolf’s side added their fourth try.
Joe Batchelor swatted off defenders too easily to find Lewis Dodd, the young half-back who, in turn, handed on to Walmsley.
Barely 10m out, this was more the Yorkshireman’s territory and he gleefully accepted the challenge, Rhyse Martin the latest vanquished Leeds forward left helpless when faced by the full force of his raw power.
How the visitors must have privately rejoiced at the sight of the ex-Batley Bulldogs prop then trudging off to take his first breather.
Nevertheless, the 31-year-old was equally as brutal in his second spell, coming back in the second half to not only blast more holes in Leeds’ tiring defence but somehow chase back 50m to help deny Richie Myler a consolation try in the closing stages.
Walmsley’s statistics were staggering - he ran 254m from 25 carries - and gave a reminder of just how powerful the champions can still be as they reach the business end of the season, even without their first-choice half-backs and some other key forwards.
Leeds, who were 28-6 down at the break with Brad Dwyer scoring from their first genuine attack in the 36th minute, did improve in the second period with far greater resilience.
They had missed 17 tackles in the first period so it was inevitable Saints, who opened the scoring via Regan Grace in the third minute, would thrive.
However, Agar’s side then dug deep and managed to start competing.
There was a welcome return, too, of Corey Johnson, the 20-year-old former England Academy hooker who made his Rhinos debut on the final day of the 2019 season but then retired from the sport.
He returned in the amateur game with Hunslet Parkside this season and rejoined Rhinos in July, heading out to York City Knights on loan to get up to speed.
Johnson showed some nice touches when he came on at dummy-half in the second period but, of course, it was damage limitation by then.
Sione Mata’utia had extended the lead early in the second period before going off with an ankle injury and Knowles added his second try late on, Lachlan Coote finishing with six goals.
St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Welsby, Dodd; Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Substitutes: Thompson, Amor, Smith, Wingfield.
Leeds Rhinos: Broadbent; L Briscoe, Newman, T Briscoe, Handley; Leeming, Myler; Holroyd, Dwyer, Prior, Walters, Martin, O’Connor. Substitutes: Smith, A Sutcliffe, Thompson, Johnson.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)