A returning Jon Wilkin scored Saints’ final try and managed to guide his side to their first win in the Super 8’s stage of the Super League as they defeated Leeds 18-32 at Headingley.
Wilkin said: “The last months been really tough for the club and we’ve had some real bad results but it’s done us well.”
He added: “In tough times you learn more about yourselves and this bad spell has done us a lot of good.”
Coach Kieran Cunningham said: “Jon [Wilkin] really gives us that X-Factor as you’ve seen tonight.”
Leeds were brought back down to Earth after their record breaking triumph at Wembley last weekend. This is the second consecutive season that Saints have defeated Leeds following their Challenge Cup success.
Saints dominated the majority of the first half after scoring an early try through Tommy Makinson which was followed midway through the half by a try from Josh Jones. However Leeds did grab two tries of their own through Jimmy Keinhorst and a 39th minute effort from Mitch Achurch. A Luke Walsh penalty was the difference between the sides at the break.
Cunningham’s side started the second half just as brightly. Walsh added to his first half penalty when he stepped over the line, this was followed by an Adam Quinlan try. However Saints couldn’t bury Leeds just yet as Ryan Hall finished off a typical breakaway Rhinos try.
It was Wilkin who wrapped the game up for St Helens when he scored his 100th career try in the final minutes on his return to the first team. Saints managed to earn their first win since the league split which now gives them a four-point cushion in the final semi-final place.
Cunningham said: “We came with a lot of intent tonight and it wasn’t the perfect game for us but we forced errors from Leeds.”
He added: “It’s a daunting place to come especially after their win last week so its a real big win for us.”
Man of the Match Walsh said: “We’ve had a real tough onth and we really needed that win tonight and it was a real good team performance.”
Leeds were without three members of their cup final winning team as Rob Burrow, Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins all missed the game through injury. The Rhinos do maintain their position at the top of the Super League however.
Saints wasted no time in taking control of the game as they put themselves ahead after just two minutes. An uncharacteristic knock-on from Danny McGuire allowed Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook scoop up the ball before slinging it out wide. Makinson ended up with possession and managed to squeeze between the touchline and defenders to score.
Veteran forward Jamie Peacock did pick up what looked like a nasty head injury in the early stages however he did return to the field. Leeds began to settle eventually scoring themselves just past the fifteen minute mark, Returning Centre Keinhorst managed to evade the challenge of Swift before getting to the line. Keinhorst did miss the Challenge Cup final last weekend after a twelve-game run in the side.
However Leeds’ early game nerves seemed to have resurfaced as Luke Garbutt and Adam Cuthbertson failed to communicate leading to the kick-off bouncing out for a goal line drop-out. Garbutt then followed this up with a high tackle seconds later.
Saints took advantage of being gifted three consecutive sets on the Rhinos line by regaining their lead. An untidy pass from James Roby managed to get recovered, picked up and thrown out wide. Centre Jones managed to force his way over despite the best efforts of young Leeds full-back Ashton Golding. Walsh would follow this up with a penalty goal giving Saints an eight point lead.
Leeds did manage to put themselves within one-try of Saints just before the interval though, A quick play-the-ball from Holding allowed Achurch to jump from Hooker and score. He did bundle over Holding in the process and only just managed to ground the ball but the video referee judged that there was no interference and there was sufficient pressure on the ball to give a try.
The visitors soon re-established their lead on the other side of the hooter through Walsh. The half-back opted out of the cross field kick and went himself stepping through the Leeds defenders to score and earn Saints their eight point lead again.
This was followed by a period off tough and rugged defence from both sides, Leeds trying to stay in the game whilst Saints attempted to prevent any Leeds pressure. Just before the hour mark Saints extended their lead and gave themselves a bit of buffer in terms of the scoreline, A sublime inside offload from Travis Burns was hit at pace by full-back Quinlan who raced to the line and crossed relatively unchallenged.
Even with Saints extended their lead Leeds continued to battle and it paid dividend when they crossed with ten minutes left. Kevin Sinfield collected a Tom Briscoe offload before breaking and giving the ball to Hall who went in under the sticks.
However Wilkin did eventually round the game up for Saints when he capitalized on a loose ball to score his 100th career try on his return to first team action.
Saints now travel to Castleford next week looking to confirm their semi-final place. Meanwhile Leeds face the tough test of travelling to Catalan.
Leeds: Golding, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Garbutt, Cuthbertson, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Delaney.
Interchanges: Leuluai, Achurch, Singleton, Lilley.
Saints: Quinlan, Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Savelio, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Turner.
Interchanges: Walmsley, Flanagan, Richards, Greenwood.
Referee: James Child Video Referee: Attendance: