BRAVE, defiant, breathtaking, classy… Saints edged an epic contest with Leeds at Langtree Park thanks to a last gasp Tommy Makinson try and defence of steel.
The winger scored two outstanding tries as Saints defied the odds to win 14-10.
Missing nine first team players, Nathan Brown’s young side were strong in defence, played out their sets and were more of a match for their more seasoned opponents.
The game was tied at half time after a depleted Saints put in a herculean effort.
It was difficult to notice who was down on numbers as the home side ripped in from the off and pulled back a Danny McGuire try with a well-taken Anthony Walker effort.
Kevin Sinfield kicked a penalty on 55 minutes but a wonderful try from Tommy Makinson put Saints back in front.
Another penalty from the boot of the Rhinos’ captain levelled it up but a Makinson try, fashioned by the superb Lance Hohaia and Jonny Lomax, sealed a memorable win.
If there was any evidence that the pain of last season was worth it – it came from the performances across the field from the young players.
Saints made a number of changes because of injury and suspension with Greg Richards moving to prop and a bench of Luke Thompson and Joe Greenwood.
Andre Savelio also became the 32nd Saints Academy tourist to play Super League.
Leeds brought in Chris Clarkson on the bench and Stevie Ward in the centres for the injured Joel Moon.
Saints had an early taste of pressure when Carl Ablett lost the ball on Leeds’ first set.
The Rhinos then put in a high ball which thankfully went… eventually… dead.
Both sides swapped big clearing kicks and then the Rhinos almost broke through when another bomb caused problems in the defence.
But on ten minutes Saints won a penalty and nearly got through when Roby chipped ahead.
Leeds then forced two drop outs in quick succession but Saints tackled like demons to keep them out.
But as the game reached the quarter mark a penalty gave the visitors field possession and Danny McGuire scorched in.
It was harsh on Saints who had defended so well and it could have been worse moments later if a set from poor carry hadn’t been defended by Sia Soliola.
The home side turned that good fortune to attack and with 15 to go in the match Anthony Walker plunged over after great work from Andre Savelio.
Tommy Makinson making it 6-6.
It was the simple stuff from Saints that was doing the damage – playing out their sets and producing wonderful kick chase when required.
That tactic forced Leeds consistently on the back foot and they had to come out from their own 20.
And when it came to the Rhinos’ kicks, Saints did more than enough to repel borders.
The video ref chalked one off for Leeds on 38 minutes and that it stayed level at half time.
The tight and tense affair continued in the early stages of the second half, with both sides again kicking deep.
Defences were on top but as the opening 10 minutes progressed it was clear the momentum was moving in Leeds’ favour.
They were making more yards on their sets whilst Saints were just about ticking over.
On 55 minutes Leeds forced a drop out – their third of the night – and they had to settle for a penalty to put them back ahead.
A controversial drop out brought more pressure for the visitors and another repeat set had them on the back foot again.
Saints defended really well and looked to have scored a try when Josh Jones hacked on a loose ball after great passing from his teammates.
Yet, it was called back for a knock on earlier in the set.
That gave the home side confidence and when Saints won a drop out they made it count.
Tommy Makinson flew over in the corner with another one of his specials – even through the video referee took an age to find something to disallow it for.
Saints defended another drop out – their fifth – but a harsh penalty gave Sinfield another easy two-pointer.
As the game entered its final stages Saints took the wrong option on the last – but asserted enough pressure to ensure when they got the ball back, they would have the best possible chance.
And it came from Lance Hohaia who chipped over to Jonny Lomax, who then did the same for Makinson to chase.
The winger took an age to put down, but he did and he sent the fans wild.
Leeds had 34 seconds left on the clock to strike back but Greenwood collected the short kick off and one hell of a party began on the terraces.
The Rhinos were thunderstruck.
Tries: Walker, Makinson (2)
Goals: Makinson (2 from 3)
Goals: Sinfield (3 from 3)
REF: Richard Silverwood
1. Jonny Lomax; 2. Tommy Makinson, 4. Josh Jones, 26. Matty Dawson, 5. Adam Swift; 6. Lance Hohaia, 17. Paul Wellens; 8. Mose Masoe, 9. James Roby, 27. Greg Richards, 15. Mark Flanagan, 11. Sia Soliola, 25. Anthony Walker.
Subs: 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 23. Joe Greenwood, 28. Luke Thompson, 33. Andre Savelio.
1. Zak Hardaker; 20. Tom Briscoe, 3. Kallum Watkins, 14. Stevie Ward, 5. Ryan Hall; 6. Danny McGuire, 13. Kevin Sinfield; 8. Kylie Leuluai, 7. Rob Burrow, 10. Jamie Peacock, 11. Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 12. Carl Ablett, 15. Brett Delaney.
Subs: 2. Ben Jones-Bishop, 17. Ian Kirke, 18. Chris Clarkson, 23. Brad Singleton.