ONE thing is for sure, Brian McDermott is certainly prescient.
The Leeds Rhinos head coach warned that there was still plenty of work to be done when the struggling champions ended their four-match losing run against Hull FC last week.
He was proven correct as they immediately fell back into the losing fashion last night, suffering a ninth defeat from a dozen Super League games so far.
Granted, there was plenty to like about their game – some of the West Yorkshire club’s tries were truly sublime against St Helens in their finest attacking display yet – but their defence, if you can call it that, was utterly ridiculous.
From their first four penalties, the hosts – in the mire, too, having lost three successive home matches – proved brutal, punishing Leeds by scoring a try each time in a game that swung to and fro all night.
But the manner in which some Rhinos players hung off attackers, especially Theo Fages, the French half-back who was given the freedom of Langtree Park at times and breezed over for two tries, was alarming.
Admittedly, the visitors did lose Zak Hardaker, their full-back, to a head knock early in the second period and fellow England international Carl Ablett, too, but that was little mitigation.
Similarly, Saints’ defence was abysmal as well but, in James Roby and Fages, they just had enough wherewithal and class to get home.
For fans of the English game, it was pleasing to see Jonny Lomax, the effervescent full-back out for 13 months, make a successful return for Saints. He scored twice including the first of this bizarre contest that not only hinted at his own class as he bamboozled Hardaker but also the ineptitude of the defence to come.
Joe Greenwood, the bullocking Saints back-row, scored the first of his brace straight after as they raced into a 10-0 lead inside just seven minutes with dazed Leeds looking bound for another night of mediocrity.
However, the combination of scrum-half Rob Burrow’s switch to hooker and the hosts’ bizarre decision to die with the ball on four different occasions, led to McDermott’s side striding 16-10 ahead.
They rattled off three tries in just 11 minutes and they all involved some genuine class, reminiscent of Leeds of old.
After Beau Falloon produced an awful error-ridden 17 minutes, McDermott sent Liam Sutcliffe on.
Burrow went to dummy-half – where he had been irresistible in the win over Hull FC – and almost instantly surged 40m downfield.
Although Roby denied him, Sutcliffe produced his own 40m effort – a wondrous pass to the right flank – and Ashton Golding touched down. Jordan Lilley converted but Hardaker missed touch with a penalty and Leeds fans sank once more.
However, Lilley came up with a crucial intercept that saw Roby drag down Sutcliffe to deny the replacement but unable to prevent another Rhinos score as they held their nerve, Brad Singleton in particular, to send Burrow scampering over.
When Saints again squandered a chance to apply pressure with a kick, being caught in possession on the last tackle once more, the visitors were in again.
It was a sublime score, finished off by Jimmy Keinhorst – who has impressed of late at centre – but created by the sort of wilful, carefree offloading that has been so badly missing from his side’s game.
Burrow, Ablett, Sutcliffe, Lilley, Singleton and – with a remarkable take and pass for such a big forward – Mitch Achurch were all involved before Lilley’s conversion put them 16-10 ahead on 33 minutes.
Typically, however, a needless high tackle from Anthony Mullally saw them under pressure and, this time, Walsh did find a grubber that Lomax latched onto for his second try of the night, the scrum-half sending them in 16-16.
Leeds should have taken the lead when Jack Owens dropped the second-half kick-off but Brett Delaney, similarly, could not hold on as Watkins seemed to have fashioned the opportunity.
Instead, Saints – or Kyle Amor, more precisely – acted, their bearded prop smashing Hardaker 5m from his own line and picking up the pieces.
The Leeds full-back, already with his head bandaged from an earlier collision, could not continue.
Nevertheless, Walsh missed a second simple conversion so it meant when Ash Handley left Amor rooted in his own half and then rounded Shannon McDonnell with embarrassing ease, Lilley’s successful kick soon had Leeds back in front.
Again, though, Greenwood proved too strong for Sutcliffe –acting as full-back – and after another lame penalty from Mullally, Fages was allowed to dart over on the last tackle.
Mullally atoned with his first try in Leeds colours since moving from Huddersfield Giants but Fages danced through feeble defence once more meaning Keinhorst’s second, after a fine assist from the excellent winger Handley, was futile.
St Helens: Lomax; McDonnell, Dawson, Percival, Owens; Fages, Walsh; Tasi, Roby, Amor, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Greenwood, Wilkin. Substitutes: Walmsley, Vea, Richards, Knowles.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Golding, Watkins, Keinhorst, Handley; Lilley, Burrow; Galloway, Falloon, Garbutt, Delaney, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Sutcliffe, Singleton, Achurch, Mullally.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).