SAINTS produced their best performance of the season – and of many a year – to beat Leeds 30-16 in their own backyard.
Heroes all over the pitch turned in massive games in defence and attack but it was the half back partnership of Lee Gaskell and Jonny Lomax as well as winger Jamie Foster that really caught the eye.
That trio were outstanding, leading from the front and signalling to the rest of Super League that Saints will be in the mix come October.
Defences were on top in an enthralling first half as Saints matched Leeds play for play.
And realistically they would’ve counted themselves unlucky to have gone in level rather than in front.
Royce Simmons’ team looked pacey and lively throughout and Foster got them underway with a cool finish following great work from Gaskell and Meli.
But Leeds levelled with around five minutes left in the half as a bouncing ball was collected by Ryan Hall.
In the second, Zak Hardaker scored off a pass that was at least two yards forward before Michael Shenton plucked the ball out of mid-air to respond.
But another poor decision allowed Paul McShane to score – after Brent Webb had clearly knocked on in the build-up.
Francis Meli put Saints ahead again – thanks to Scott Moore’s great pass – and then Gaskell fed Wellens for a fantastic score.
And a sublime piece of skill from Foster at the death rounded off a memorable win.
The big question before the game is who would pair up in Saints’ half back slots because of injury and suspension.
Simmons chose Gaskell, who he has been full of praise for all season, with Lomax, who has played in the centres so far this campaign.
Elsewhere, Tony Puletua was passed fit to play and Josh Perry made his second start of the season.
Foster began on the wing, with Meli coming inside as his centreman.
Leeds could call on Ben Jones-Bishop who returned from suspension, but despite having a number of players out through injury, had a formidable looking pack and bench.
Saints had a strong opening set of six with James Graham offloading to James Roby who scampered down the pitch. Lee Gaskell got a high kick off on the last tackle and Paul Wellens caught it in mid-air but when his pass went to Michael Shenton he just couldn’t get his pass away.
On Saints next two sets they tried the same tactic; Brent Webb leaving the first one and Zak Hardaker collecting the second.
On six minutes though, Leeds knocked on in their own half to give Saints a shot at some points. And they almost forced a drop out when Gaskell’s kick found Ryan Hall in goal – but he just sneaked out.
Moments later, Lomax and Roby went close before Meli was held up inches short on the last.
12 minutes in though, Chris Flannery was penalised for an infringement in the tackle and from the resultant set Leeds has Saints defence scrambling. Foster and Shenton producing massive plays to keep the score level.
Shortly afterwards, Paul Clough left the field with a neck injury after a tackle with Weller Hauraki.
After the game was stopped for a few moments Zak Hardaker looked like he put the ball over in the corner but Jamie Foster just did enough to get him to put his boot in touch.
And it was Foster who got Saints underway after the ball went through several pairs of hands for him to touch down in the corner.
He then bettered it by smashing the conversion over from the touchline.
On 25 minutes Leeds got two sets right on Saints line but their scrambling defence was just too good.
A couple of minutes later Wellens and Gardner did the business on Hall to stop Leeds getting on the board.
It was the Rhinos who continued to have the better of possession though and Ryan Hall finally got Leeds going with a score in the corner. Sinfield converting from the touchline.
Wellens should have scored as the clock ticked down – but a superb tackle stopped him from crossing.
Half Time: Leeds 6 Saints 6
Both sides exchanged strong drives in the opening stages – and strong kicks – but couldn’t find any chinks of armour in the defence.
But once Ade Gardner had the ball stripped – not seen by the referee – Zak Hardaker scored off the most forward pass you are ever likely to see.
And when we say forward, we mean forward.
Sinfield missing the conversion.
It was a shocker of a decision and immediately put Saints right on the back foot just five minutes into the second half.
Saints got right back on the horse though as moments later Puletua broke through the middle and passed to Roby who put his side in a great position. After two drives a high ball went over and Shenton did the business.
Foster with the conversion.
On 55 minutes, Leeds gained three sets on Saints line and after some superb handling Paul McShane crossed. But once again Saints could count themselves unlucky as it was clear Brent Webb knocked on in the build-up.
On 65 minutes, Paul Clough returned to the field and as he did the ball went left and Saints found a gap through Scott Moore for Francis Meli to get over. Foster converting.
Saints then went further ahead when Lee Gaskell found Paul Wellens in space for a crucial score. Foster adding the extras.
It was an excellent run from the full back – seeing the gap and the angle to break the line.
And it got better as Jamie Foster caught an amazing Francis Meli flick in the final two minutes to seal the win.
Quite simply, he caught the ball behind him and transferred it around his back, Harlem Globetrotters style to put down.
The Saints fans were in raptures – and Foster then slammed the conversion right off the touchline to seal a man of the match performance and a wonderful win.
Tries: Hall, Hardaker, McShane
Goals: Sinfield (2 from 3)
Tries: Foster (2), Shenton, Meli, Wellens
Goals: Foster (5 from 5)
REF: Richard Silverwood
1. Brent Webb, 27. Zak Hardaker, 19. Kallum Watkins, 4. Keith Senior, 5. Ryan Hall; 13. Kevin Sinfield, 7. Rob Burrow; 11. Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 9. Danny Buderus, 17. Ian Kirke, 20. Weller Hauraki, 14. Ali Lauitiiti, 12. Carl Ablett.
Subs: 15. Ben Cross, 18. Luke Burgess, 21. Chris Clarkson, 24. Paul McShane.
1. Paul Wellens; 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Michael Shenton, 5. Francis Meli, 22. Jamie Foster; 25. Lee Gaskell, 20. Jonny Lomax; 8. Josh Perry, 9. James Roby, 10. James Graham, 16. Paul Clough, 13. Chris Flannery, 11. Tony Puletua.
Subs: 14. Scott Moore, 17. Gary Wheeler, 18. Matty Ashurst, 21. Shaun Magennis.