St. Helens 42 Leeds Rhinos 16: Rhinos’ flaws are exposed as they crumble

STRUGGLING Leeds Rhinos’ inability to perform for a game’s entirety came to the fore again last night as they were humbled by St Helens.

Brian McDermott’s side trailed just 6-4 at the break following a first half imbued with plenty of positives, not least a far grittier and determined defensive effort.

But, just as they had done a week earlier versus Warrington, earnest endeavours against one of Super League’s leading sides disintegrated again during a turgid second period.

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St Helens have plenty of players who can capitalise on errors – and Leeds made too many of those once more – but the relaxed manner in which the visitors’ defence was unpicked must have been alarming for the Headingley chief as they shipped more than 40 points for successive fixtures.

Conversely, despite having Danny McGuire and Brent Webb back from injury, the West Yorkshire club lacked any of the attacking crispness of their rivals, not crossing the line until Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s 68th-minute try, followed quickly by another from Lee Smith as victorious Saints dozed.

Captain Kevin Sinfield endured a tortuous evening, compounded when his wild pass was intercepted by man of the match Lee Gaskell in the closing seconds, but by then the damage had long since been done.

Gaskell’s half-back partner Jonny Lomax was similarly emphatic and creative.

Sinfield is expected to line up at No 6 for England against the Exiles next week but the loose forward was hapless last night.

His penalties in the fifth and 25th minute of an absorbingly tight first half pointed to better things ahead.

Rhinos had a couple of instances where they might have broken Saints, the best one coming just before the interval only to be denied by referee Phil Bentham.

Paul McShane had dummied through with Sinfield in support but the official was caught in the middle as the pass bounced off him.

Smith had darted for the corner from Danny Buderus’s long pass in the eighth minute but Paul Wellens and Tommy Makinson did enough to force him into fumbling as he crossed the line.

Saints struggled to get much decent attacking position early on, Michael Shenton racing onto Gaskell’s pinpoint grubber for an effort ruled out by video referee Steve Ganson, their only real threat.

However, a wonderful set scrum move from inside their own half almost saw Saints score a spectacular try.

Shenton produced a great blindside run for James Roby to sprint clear. It seemed the England hooker would race all 70 metres but Leeds full-back Brent Webb recovered brilliantly, ankle-tapping the former Man of Steel at the last.

After McShane’s unforced forward pass conceded more position, though, Graham breached Leeds’s resistance off Roby’s typical flat delivery, Jamie Foster converting the 28th-minute try to give his side a lead they would never lose. Saints extended that two minutes after the re-start following a rare gaffe from Webb.

He dealt with Foster’s kick-chase down after some slick passing had unlocked Leeds’s right-side defence but then inexplicably lost the ball with no one near as he came away from his own line.

From the resulting drop-out, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook rolled out of a tackle before Lomax did likewise, just getting his hands free from Jamie Peacock’s grasp between the posts to see Roby dive over, Foster converting.

Leeds’s kicking game had rarely troubled their hosts but turned into a provider in the 52nd minute when Sinfield’s attempted chip wide failed to even get over the defence, Francis Meli plucking it out of the air before surging home untouched from 60m.

Foster improved again and did likewise following a crisp backline move four minutes later as the ravishing hosts took command. Lomax was the instigator once more, his ability to stand up defenders allowing Wellens to unleash Meli as the Samoan exploited Leeds’s right-side too easily, Lomax pouring through on the inside to finish.

When Sinfield’s night got worse after his attempted short kick-off failed to go 10 metres, ruthless Saints turned the screw.

Their other young half-back Gaskell provided a flat pass for Sia Soliola to burst through more weak defence and find a quality off-load to Scott Moore as he fell to the ground.

Leeds’s malaise and sheer frustration was underscored when Webb was penalised for dissent leading to Wellens scrambling over following a fine assist from Jon Wilkin.

Leeds – who saw McGuire limp off – finally responded when Kylie Leuluai stole possession from Moore to set up a position for Jones-Buchanan to celebrate his England call-up and Smith finished smartly off Webb’s pass.

But Gaskell rounded things off with that stroll-in from the dejected Sinfield’s wayward pass, Foster maintaining his 100 per cent record.

St Helens: Wellens; Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Gaskell, Lomax; Graham, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Wilkin, Puletua. Substitutes: Eastmond, Moore, Dixon, Magennis.

Leeds Rhinos: Webb; Hardaker, Smith, Delaney, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield. Substitutes: Lauitiiti, Bailey, Hauraki, McShane.

Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington)