Leeds Rhinos' decision-making found wanting in defeat at St Helens
Leeds led twice against a Saints team who were missing many of their top forwards and had an inexperienced bench, but they conceded some silly tries and simply weren’t good enough to beat a home team who were there for the taking.
The game was won and lost 13 minutes from time. Nene Macdonald, playing on the wing, had just scored an equalising try, taking Richie Myler’s pass, off his leg and doing well to get the ball down.
Rhyse Martin’s touchline conversion - his third goal - nosed Leeds in front and a smart team would have been good enough to hold on.
Instead, Blake Austin kicked out on the full at the end of the next set and Jack Welsby sliced through the defence for his second try, which Lewis Dodd improved to complete the scoring.
Rhinos coach Rohan Smith said: “We tackled well. A couple of misreads probably hurt us, but it was a really stop-start game.
“It didn’t have the end-to-end attrition a game between these two teams should have. It was a great contest; the effort was there and we competed well, as did St Helens. Their tryline defence probably got them home in the end.”
Will Hopoate had begun the scoring in the fourth minute from Jack Welsby’s kick and Tommy Makinson landed a penalty to make it 6-0.
After that poor start, Rhinos worked their way into the game and should have been ahead at the interval, rather than going in all square, after scoring two good tries.
First, Austin hurled a long pass to Ash Handley, he caught it above his head and passed inside - football throw-in style - to Martin who put on some footwork and stepped over the line.
The second try was created by Aidan Sezer who put Sam Walters into space and the big forward finished in some style, weaving past full-back Welsby. However, Leeds made a pig’s ear of things in the final two minutes of the half, going from attacking one end to conceding at the other. When Leeds forced a 38th minute drop out, going in only six points ahead appeared to be the worst possible outcome. But James McDonnell was penalised for a push as he chased Sezer’s kick; a surge by Konrad Hurrell and set-restart kept the pressure on and on the final play of the half Tee Ritson went over from Hopoate’s pass. Makinson converted.
McDonnell, a second-rower, was in the centre by then, Leeds having lost David Fusitu’a to a head injury after 18 minutes, after he lost possession trying to force his way over from acting-half.
Walters appeared to have scored a sensational second try in the opening moments of the second period, but referee Liam Moore’s call of try was overruled by video assistant Ben Thaler, who spotted an offside from Sezer’s kick.
That was a 10-point decision as Welsby went over from Hopoate’s offload in the set from the penalty, though Makinson missed the straightforward conversion attempt.
Leeds had enough possession and territory after that to find a winner, but wee - once again in a frustrating season - found wanting.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Hurrell, Hopoate, Ritson, Lomax, Dodd, Lees, Roby, Delaney, Bell, Royle, Knowles. Subs Norman, Davies, Baxter, Mbye.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Fusitu’a, Martin, Macdonald, Handley, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, O’Connor, Walters, Bentley, McDonnell, Smith. Subs Lisone, Sangare, Holroyd, Johnson.
Referee: LIam Moore (Wigan).