Red-hot Saints, missing a host of first team stars, secured another dominant 36-20 victory, this time over a resurgent Leeds Rhinos, with the Coral Challenge Cup Final at Wembley up next.
Regan Grace opened the scoring after excellent handling from Jack Welsby and Mark Percival. Leeds responded with two quick fire tries through Richie Myler and Ash Handley to give the hosts the lead before a late first half try from Kevin Naiqama sent the teams in level at half time.
Saints started the second half brilliantly with Zeb Taia and Regan Grace scoring within five minutes of the restart. Percival extended Saints lead converting a penalty before Naiqama scored two spectacular solo tries to secure his hat-trick. Leeds did find two consolation tries through Handley and Harry Newman late on, but Saints were too strong for the Rhinos.
The home side had the better of the opening stages forcing repeat sets on the Saints line. Leeds thought they had taken the lead through Handley, but a superb tackle from Welsby stopped what looked a certain try for the winger.
It was Saints who scored the opening try of the game after an offload from Taia was picked up by Welsby, he found Percival who put Grace in at the corner. Percival converted brilliantly off the touchline in the absence of Lachlan Coote and Danny Richardson.
The Rhinos came close again with Adam Cuthbertson’s offloads creating space in the Saints line, but the final pass from Konrad Hurrell to Handley went into touch.
Leeds did reply through Myler as Brad Dwyer fed the scrum half and he stepped back inside two Saints defenders and reached for the line to touch down. Rhyse Martin added the extras to level the game.
Leeds were in again, this time Hurrell’s offload found Handley and he crashed his way over in the corner. Martin was unable to add the extras.
Saints responded on their very next set as a knock on from Cuthbertson gave Saints great field position. A flowing move on the right edge finished with Lomax finding Welsby and he fed Naiqama who stepped back inside and forced his way over. Percival was unable to add the extras sending the teams in at the break all square.
Saints came flying out of the traps in the second half as Fages’ high kick was fumbled by Luke Briscoe and Grace was there to touch down with his finger tips before Taia, on his 300th career appearance also grounded the ball to cast any doubt over the try which was given by the video referee.
Saints were in again on the very next set and there was no doubt about who scored this one. Taia’s kick through was collected by Grace and he returned the ball to Taia via an offload and he powered his way over to score a try of his own. Percival adding the two.
Leeds were then penalised on their own line in front of the posts and Saints opted to take the two, Percival extended Saints lead to 14.
Saints were in full flight and were in again through Naiqama as Fages fed the Fiji captain who stepped past two Leeds defenders and showed a change of pace to race clear to score next to the posts.
Naiqama then grabbed his hat-trick after crisp passing from Fages and Lomax found Welsby and he fed the on rushing Naiqama with a short ball. The centre crashed past three Leeds defenders to touch down for his third of the game.
Leeds scored two consolation tries through Handley and Newman late on reducing the deficit to 16, but Saints’ second half performance proved the difference and the Red Vee head to Wembley in red-hot form.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, Handley, Lui, Myler, Cuthbertson, Lunt, Seumanufagai, Martin, Ferres, Merrin.
Interchanges: Dwyer, Sutcliffe, Peteru, Donaldson.
Tries: Myler (30), Handley (36,73), Newman ( 76)
Goals: Martin ( 2 from 3)
St.Helens: Welsby, Grace, Costello, Percival, Naiqama, Fages, Lomax, Lees, Smith, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Bentley.
Interchanges: Amor, Ashworth, Batchelor, Eaves.
Tries: Grace (21,43), Naiqama (39,62,65), Taia (45).
Goals: Percival (5 from 6)
Penalties: Percival ( 1 from 1)
Referee: Chris Kendell