St Helens won a fourth straight game before their Challenge Cup Final at Wembley next week with a 36-20 win over Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Stadium on Thursday.
After surviving a torrent of pressure, the leaders showed their class on the last play to spread the ball and find Regan Grace, who got out of a few tackles before touching down in the corner. Mark Percival converted to make it a six point advantage.
That score may have seemed harsh on the Rhinos, but they hit back as Richie Myler danced through the defence before stretching out to reach the line. Rhyse Martin converted to level the scores.
After being denied the first score of the game by the video referee, Ash Handley wasn’t going to be denied a second time as he went over Theo Fages to get in. Martin was off target this time, but Leeds led for the first time.
They couldn’t see the lead until half time however as Kevin Naiqama did brilliantly to power over with four Rhinos defenders on his back. Percival hit the post with the conversion, meaning it was level at 10 going into half time.
It took Saints just three minutes to make their mark in the second half, as Luke Briscoe failed to deal with a kick and one of Grace or Zeb Taia got the ball down, the try was credited to Taia. Percival converted to put Saints back ahead by six points.
Saints then scored again to make it back to back tries and Taia scored again after a brilliant offload by Grace and the forward was able to ground under pressure. Percival converted again and then added a penalty not long after to put the leaders in a commanding position.
Just past the hour, Saints made sure of the game after Naiqama showed a great change of pace to get away from the defence and get over. Percival scored the conversion again to make it a 20 point lead.
Then just two minutes later, it was hat trick heaven for Kevin Naiqama as he cut back inside and evaded a few tackles to go over by the posts. Percival was once again on target to get Saints up to 36.
After being under the cosh for most of the second half, Leeds then fashioned a chance and got a second try through Handley. Martin was off target with the conversion, but they had a confidence booster to finish a tough period.
The Rhinos were not done there and grabbed a second try in quick succession as Briscoe did brilliantly to offload on the touchline to Harry Newman who scored. Martin scored the conversion to bring the Rhinos up to 20 points.
It was an exiliarting game, but it was Saints who came out on top, meaning they maintain their hot form heading into the Challenge Cup Final next week against Warrington Wolves.
As for Leeds, it is a harsh lesson for a side that is still rebuilding after a tough year. They have a week off before they travel to London Broncos on September 1.