This was once the most unmissable game in Super League but these days, matches between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos are far more straightforward to predict. That was again the case here as Saints underlined the gulf between these two sides in emphatic fashion.
St Helens and the Rhinos have won eight titles apiece in the summer era but there is only one team likely to extend that to nine in the months ahead. Leeds have improved since Rohan Smith arrived from Australia as their head coach two months ago, emphasised by the encouraging moments and problems they posed the reigning champions on occasions here. But in the end, St Helens did what they always seem to do: punish their opponents when it matters most.
In truth, the outcome was probably already decided before Leeds imploded here with an hour gone. St Helens were well on course to move six points clear at the top before the rest of this weekend’s fixtures but the Rhinos fell apart, with sin-binnings for Bodene Thompson and James Bentley either side of a red card for Zane Tetevano that will almost certainly earn him an extended break on the sidelines.
How the Saints made them pay for their ill-discipline too, with three more tries on top of the five they had already scored to run out comfortable winners. “I was happy with how we stayed disciplined, we kept the pressure on and didn’t get frustrated when they scrambled,” St Helens’ coach, Kristian Woolf, said. “We were good value for that win tonight.”
While the Saints are on course to finish top and favourites for a fourth successive Super League title, Leeds are languishing outside the playoffs. Having fallen behind to tries from Konrad Hurrell and Alex Walmsley, they halved the deficit when Harry Newman scored a superb solo effort. But Regan Grace’s try, which had more than a suspicion of a knock-on in the buildup, swung things back in St Helens’ favour. “It was a critical moment, the ball clearly moves in his arms,” Smith said.
“They were just better for longer in the end. At 20-12 it was game on and a good battle but we lost a bit of composure.” After Hurrell scored his second and Thompson replied with a try for Leeds it felt, as Smith said post-match, that things were in the balance. But the Saints emphatically took the game away from Leeds, as Agnatius Paasi crashed over following a pivotal error from Zak Hardaker, and from there, the Rhinos fell apart.
Thompson was sent to the sin-bin for a trip and without him on the field, St Helens put the result beyond doubt as Joe Batchelor and Dan Norman cut through Leeds’ tiring defence in the kind of ruthless manner we have come to expect from a side that have won three straight league titles. As Thompson returned, Tetevano then took out Hurrell with a horrendous tackle before Bentley went to the sin-bin for a professional foul. With Leeds in pieces, Walmsley punished them with his second to further underline the difference between these two sides right now.