Leeds Rhinos 0-26 St Helens: Highlights, player ratings and talking points

Despite a valiant effort from the Rhinos, St Helens underlined why they’re still the team to beat in 2022 with what was ultimately a comprehensive win for the Champions.

But they were made to work for it and had to defend gallantly for long periods in both halves but in the end touches of class gave the Champions a sixth win of the season.

Unsurprisingly, as was often the case in his previous 499 appearances, James Roby was at the heart of things on his landmark day. The way things are going he could lead his team to an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in 2022.

Highlights:

Hurrell’s Headingley heroics

Konrad Hurrell on his return to Headingley where he became a cult hero and a Challenge Cup winner had Saints fans cheering his name just minutes into his return to the famous old ground. The big fella showed good pace to get on the outside of former teammate Jack Broadbent and score a lovely try from a scrum to give the Champions a perfect start. He did have the Leeds fans singing his name shortly after, however, when he knocked on.

Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles
This is a saying you’ll find frequently in football, but it rings true in rugby league. Rarely you’ll see defence called a highlight but the strength in defence from the Saints on their own line facing virtually 20 persistent minutes of Leeds pressure in the first half has to be commended. It is special efforts like this which have made them Champions. To Leeds’ credit – who also showed some impressive steel in defence at times – they threw some curve balls at the Champions amending an attack which had yielded a league low of 16 tries. Saints handled these wild moments perfectly however. It was this period that ultimately decided the game.

Makinson the match winner
For the second week in a row, Leeds fans were given something to shout about at the start of the second half. Their team were playing with energy and asking questions of the Saints defence. But, just like last week, an intercept killed this momentum and ultimately the game. The intercept pass was symptomatic of the problem Leeds had from the word go and was the difference between the two sides. The Rhinos passing simply wasn’t crisp enough and often went behind the man rather than to him and on the back of one of these balls, Liam Sutcliffe was pressured into attempting a wild offload which Tommy Makinson caught and scored. A minute later Lewis Dodd scored Saints’ fourth making it 20-0 and that was that.

Talking Points:

1. The oldest swinger in town
Tonight was James Roby’s 500th appearance and although the big moments and the tries were dished out to his teammates, he was the beating heart in this win over one of their old foes. With crisp distribution out of dummyhalf, speed of thought and speed out of the ruck as well as a real ruggedness in the middle of the field, he ensured the Saints remained steely down the middle channel. There were moments where things weren’t quite going to plan for the Saints with some uncharacteristic errors and instances of ill-discipline but he was the calming influence that allowed them to hang in their and hit the Rhinos with a quick fire double of tries before the hour mark which decided the contest.

2. Potential in the Rhinos project
Another loss leaves Leeds 11th in the league and with one win in eight. It’s easy to panic but tonight’s performance showed there is potential still in this squad for the Rhinos. Against the Champions and low on confidence, they made the Saints work for the win and made them feel uncomfortable for spells. They also were not blown away down the middle and at times pinned the Saints in their own end and even made inroads into their almost impenetrable pack. It was attack which let them down tonight but the right coach could amend that. The task finding that coach now falls to Gary Hetherington as he heads off to Australia looking for the next Leeds boss.

3. Imperfect Champions the perfect sign for the Saints
Winning when not at your best is the sign of a Champion side and St Helens did just that at Headingley. Though they started well, they were put under serious pressure by Leeds for long spells, made more errors than usual and showed a touch of ill-discipline. They also didn’t have total control over the middle as they often do. But when it mattered they were able to go up the gears and turn it on in attack to claim a sixth Super League win in seven games. It shows they’re well placed for a fourth consecutive title because they no longer have to physically dominate a game to come up with the moments they need to win it.

4. The halfback question at Headingley
Going into this season Leeds were commended for their recruitment signing superb halfbacks Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin. Curiously, Austin was given just a one-year deal whilst Sezer was awarded a longer contract. However, without Sezer and with Austin at the helm tonight, Leeds looked better with Liam Sutcliffe complementing Austin well and both testing the Saints with high kicks. So, the question is, does Sezer get back into the side after this performance especially with Richie Myler on the comeback trail. A quality player, it may yet click for Sezer at Leeds and a new coach could be able to bring the best out of him. But in terms of how they set up in the immediate future, it is indeed a curious conundrum.

Player Ratings:

Leeds Rhinos
1 Jack Walker – 7
29 Liam Tindall – 7
20 Tom Briscoe – 6
23 Jack Broadbent – 6
5 Ash Handley – 7
6 Blake Austin – 7
4 Liam Sutcliffe – 6
8 Mikolaj Oledzki – 8
9 Kruise Leeming – 7
10 Matt Prior – 6
11 James Bentley – 7
12 Rhyse Martin – 6
17 Cameron Smith – 6
Substitutes
21 Morgan Gannon – 7
24 Jarrod O’Connor – 6
25 James Donaldson – 7
27 Muizz Mustapha – 6

St Helens
1 Jack Welsby – 7
2 Tommy Makinson – 8
23 Konrad Hurrell – 7
4 Mark Percival – 8
27 Jon Bennison – 7
6 Jonny Lomax – 8
7 Lewis Dodd – 8
15 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook – 7
9 James Roby – 9
17 Agnatius Paasi – 7
12 Joe Batchelor – 7
16 Curtis Sironen – 7
13 Morgan Knowles – 7
Substitutes
14 Joey Lussick – 7
19 Jake Wingfield – 6
24 Dan Norman – 7
26 Sam Royale – 6

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