St Helens looked to continue their perfect start to the season as they welcomed Leeds Rhinos to the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday night as a long standing rivalry between the two sides continued.
In a game which featured no less than six disallowed tries, there was no shortage of action in a back-and-forth game between the sides.
The first action of the game when Luke Thompson caught his team-mate Kevin Naiqama’s eye with his hand as they both attempted to make a tackle. Naiqame would leave the field and not return. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook would play at centre for the Saints for the rest of the game.
St Helens took the early lead as Theo Fages kick ricocheted off Konrad Hurrell back into the half-backs arms and dived towards to line and put the ball on the try line, this was confirmed as a try by the video referee after doubts over a double movement. Percival was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt.
Their lead was stretched just a minute later after a Regan Grace break set up the Saints deep inside the Rhinos half. Mark Percival brushed off his man and offloaded, it was taped towards the try line by Nathaniel Peteru and Lomax picked up the loose ball and scored. Percival was successful from the boot as the home-side led 10-0 after ten minutes.
Percival made an instant error from the kick-off though as he misjudged the ball and it bounced into touch to gift possession back to the Rhinos.
This meant that Leeds were given the opportunity to decrease the deficit. An overlap on the right hand edge allowed Jack Walker to release Kallum Watkins who dived over the try line. Tui Lolohea duly converted and cut the gap to four.
Despite the try, Stevie Ward picked up and knock for the away side and limped off the field and would not return.
The errors from both sides continued after a couple of knock on and Tom Briscoe was nearly made to rue his. He lost the ball inside his own in-goal area and the ball was dived on by Luke Thompson. However, Chris Kendall, the Video Referee deemed the ball to have been stripped in a two-man tackle by Lachlan Coote.
Leeds levelled the scores in the 23rd minute as Konrad Hurrell stepped to the outside of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and outpaced both the makeshift centre and Theo Fages to score his third try of the season. Lolohea was successful with the conversion and the Rhinos led by two.
Hurrell thought he had grabbed his brace just a moment later as well as he found a gap in the Saints line and raced over from 10 metres out but the pass for Tui Lolohea went forward.
Saints gifted the ball back to the Rhinos the next set and this time it was Hurrell’s pass that drifted forward before Ash Handley dotted the ball down in the corner as Leeds were denied once more.
With just under ten minutes Leeds nearly scored again after Lolohea’s kick bounced awkwardly in front of Coote and Tommy Makinson had no choice but to kick the ball over the dead-ball line for a drop-out.
This repeat set did finally lead to a try for the Rhinos as Hurrell drew Makinson from the wing, popped the ball to Handley and the winger ran in unopposed from five metres out. Lolohea missed from the tee and Leeds led by six after scoring 16 unanswered points in just under 20 minutes.
With five minutes left of the half, Mikolaj Oldezki showed David Furner why he should stay in the side. He collected a Camerson Smith pass behind his back, and run over three Saints defenders and score just to the right of the posts. Lolohea converted once again and Leeds led by two converted tries as half-time loomed.
HALF-TIME: St Helens 10-22 Leeds Rhinos
Despite forcing a repeat set from the Saints, it wasn’t the Rhinos who scored the first try of the second half.
The home-side marched up 100 metres up the field in two sets and an inside pass from James Roby to Alex Walmsley allowed the prop forward to run through the wrong footed Leeds defenders and reduced the Rhinos lead. Percival converted from in front of the posts and Saints looked to be in the ascendancy.
Alex Walmsley crossed the line two minutes later as he picked out an injured Richie Myler and dragged both the half-back and Brett Ferres over the line with him to score. Percival missed the chance to level the scores as he sliced his conversion wide.
Trent Merrin was penalised for interference in the tackle and the Saints decided to go for goal but Lachlan Coote dragged the ball wide and Leeds still held onto their two point lead.
With an hour gone, the game was in either teams hand but Saint were still on the front foot as they forced another goal-line drop-out from the Rhinos.
The pressure from the Saints finally tolled and they retook the lead through Luke Thompson. The Prop-forward brushed off four Leeds tacklers and stepped passed another to score an easy try after weak tackles. Coote converted his attempt at goal.
With 15 minutes remaining Leeds were inside the Saints ten-metre line with a fresh set of six after a St Helens knock on.
The home-sides defence held on strong as Watkins failed to gather Myler’s high kick and knocked the ball on under pressure from Percival.
The expansive game continued as Peyroux broke into the Leeds half but Walker managed to win the ball back in the next tackle and the Rhinos worked back into Saints territory.
Leeds did manage to get the ball over the line once more as Richie Myler’s high kick bounced around on the floor, after a Kallum Watkin’s tap back, which was picked up by Adam Cutherbertson but a double knock on meant the try was denied.
Lolohea was the next player over the line as he broke through Lomax and Percival and tried to get the ball down. However, after being referred to the video referee as a no-try, Chris Kendall confirmed that Percival kept the ball off the line for a second disallowed try in as many minutes. However, Leeds would not get the chance to attack as Lolohea released the ball before Robert Hicks blew his whistle meaning that the decision was a knock-on by Lolohea.
The Saints should have made Leeds pay just moments later but despite skipping through the Rhinos defence, Lomax’s try was disallowed by the video referee due to obstruction in the build-up from Peyroux.
An odd decision from Robert Hicks in front of the Saints posts with a couple of minutes remaining all but secured the game for Saints. Luke Thompson knocked the ball forward and initially fresh set of six was called but Hicks then pulled the play back for a knock-on from Cameron Smith which wasn’t seen at first and Saints escaped.
With less than a minute remaining, Saints made their way up the middle of the park through the Rhinos defence and sealed their victory as James Roby kicked a less than glamorous drop goal, which was the first of his career.
Saints made it three out of three after a gritty performance from both sides and either side deserved to win.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Alex Walmsley
The St Helens prop led from the front with a brace of tries in the second half which pushed the home-side into the lead. He was a wrecking ball in attack and unbreakable through the middle of the park.
FULL-TIME: St Helens 27-22 Leeds Rhinos
Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Dominic Peyroux, Morgan Knowles.
Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor, Joseph Paulo, Matty Lees
Alex Walmsley (2), Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Luke Thompson
Mark Percival (2/4), Lachlan Coote (1/2)
Jack Walker, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Konrad Hurrell, Ash Handley, Tui Lolohea, Richie Myler, Nathaniel Peteru, Brad Dwyer, Trent Merrin, Brett Ferres, Liam Sutcliffe, Stevie Ward.
Cameron Smith, Brad Singleton, Adam Cuthbertson, Mikolaj Oldezki.
Kallum Watkins, Konrad Hurrell, Ash Handley, Mikolaj Oledzki
Tui Lolohea (3/4)