SAINTS closed the gap on leaders Warrington at the top of the table with a fine 32-18 win against the Rhinos at Stanningley on Wednesday evening, in the process gaining revenge for the set back at Langtree earlier in the season, writes Graham Henthorne.
However, for the first quarter of the game a Saints win looked as far away as anything as they were caned five nil in the penalty count and conceded two tries on the back of it.
But as soon as they sorted out their discipline and started to complete their sets they put the Rhinos under pressure and they cracked.
The turning point was a fine defensive set keeping the hosts in their own 20 for four tackles with some punishing hits from the mid-field trio of André Savelio, Greg Richards and Luke Thompson. On the fifth they knocked on and although the Saints didn’t come away with any points the Rhinos knew what they were capable of dishing out and were never really the same force again.
Jake Spedding started the come back scoring in the right corner after Olly Davies and Matty Fozard had gone close. From the play the ball Danny Richardson fed Ricky Bailey and the full back found just enough space for Spedding to go over.
The Saints were right back in it turning defence into attack in spectacular fashion. A good run from Fozard resulted in a quick play the ball which Dave Hewitt exploited perfectly breaking down the middle. Running out of space he was tackled but on the last the Saints chose to run it taking on a fractured Rhinos defensive line. The ball was moved right and Spedding fed his wing man Regan Grace who again showed his pace sprinting 20 metres down the line before expertly cutting inside and wrong footing the cover to score.
The Rhinos kept coming, however, and it took a remarkable feat of determination from Matty Fleming to first stop them scoring when he mopped up a grubber behind his own line then beating five defenders and the posts to find the field of play.
Spedding then made another 20 metres and big drives from Savelio and Phil Atherton put the Saints on the attack. A quick play the ball saw Aaron Smith dart out of dummy half and Danny Richardson put Luke Thompson in untouched for the go ahead score.
There was still time for the Saints to bomb a try after Fleming and Bailey went blind in their own 20 before feeding Calvin Wellington who looked all over scoring but was brought down short.
The second period was almost a case of Groundhog Day as the Saints started by giving away a string of penalties and a try on the back of them to level the scores.
But that was as good as it got for the home side as the Saints pack finally started to grind them down and took full control.
Savelio regained the lead with a typical bullocking try in the right corner taking four defenders over with him and despite there being over half an hour left you sensed that the stuffing had been taken out of the Rhinos.
The home side defended manfully though soaking up all the Saints could throw at them for a good 20 minutes before the weight of possession caused them to finally crack.
Spedding, having side stepped into a tackle instead of out to a try minutes earlier, made up for it by winning a repeat set with a clever grubber and good chase. From the restart Savelio was stopped short twice before Lewis Charnock burrowed his way over form dummy half.
Thompson put the icing on the cake going in, again untouched, from 20 metres out for his second of the night.
There was just time for a consolation try for the Rhinos who made the Saints work extremely hard for the win.
This was an important win in the context of the league table. Three matches to go, all at home and two against sides in the bottom three means the Saints continue to pile the pressure on the league leading Wolves and should make for a humdinger of a final game against them in the final game of the regular season.
Tries: Ashton Golding, Brad England 2, Dan Tai.
Goals: Jordan Lilley.
Tries: Regan Grace, Jake Spedding, Lewis Charnock, Luke Thompson 2, André Savelio.
Goals: Lewis Charnock 2, Dave Hewitt 2.
Half Time: 14-10
Full Time: 32-18
1. Ashton Golding; 2. Billy McDermott, 3. Jack Norfolk, 4. Brad England, 5. Dan Tai; 6. Ben White, 7. Jordan Lilley; 8. Robbie Mulhern, 9. Robbie Ward, 10. Sam Hallas, 11. Nathan Barker, 12. Elliot Minchella, 13. George Milton.
Subs: 14. Ben Frankland, 15. Matty Stableford, 16. Nyle Flynn, 17. Jonny Holmes.
1. Ricky Bailey; 2. Regan Grace, 3. Jake Spedding, 4. Calvin Wellington, 5. Matty Fleming; 6. Danny Richardson, 7. Dave Hewitt; 8. Greg Richards, 9. Lewis Charnock, 10. Luke Thompson, 11. Olly Davies, 12. André Savelio, 13. Morgan Knowles.
Subs: 14. Aaron Smith, 15. Liam Cooper, 17. Phil Atherton, 19. Matty Fozard.