Saints Academy fell to an agonising golden point extra time 22-26 defeat to Leeds Rhinos U18s in the Grand Final on Sunday afternoon at the Totally Wicked Stadium in a dramatic yet spectacular advert for Academy rugby league.
The game started with the Saints having the better of the opportunities, with Ben Lane finding Dayon Sambou, but he couldn’t maintain possession to score on the left.
It would be Leeds who drew first blood 13 minutes after an error from the Saints presented the Rhinos with a good opportunity to put pressure on the Saints’ line. A short ball to Jack Smith saw him step inside, then back out, beating the Saints’ defence to score just to the right of the posts. Jack Sinfield converted, 0-6.
After Saints’ Kal Devine lost the ball going over to score, the Rhinos punished us when Alfie Edgell went over for the Rhinos after getting the ball out the back to the right of the field and despite the efforts of McKenzie Buckley to hold him up, he grounded the ball. Sinfield hit the post with his conversion attempt, 0-10.
But in the 25th minute, the Saints finally got themselves on the board. The introduction off the bench from Noah Stephens made an impact and he helped Saints gain key yardage up field. A six again for the Saints gave them a full set on the Leeds line, where the ball was finally played out right to Sambou who gave it to Keane Gilford to score in the corner. Will Roberts converted the try, 6-10.
The Saints had the momentum and went in again just five minutes later after the ball was played out the back to Lane who dummied and grounded the ball in the left corner despite the attempted tackle attempts from the Rhinos. Robert’s kick just went wide, 10-10.
But it would be the Rhinos who went into the break ahead after Edgell scored a near carbon copy of his first try, as he got the ball out the back and went over in the right corner on the stroke of half time. Sinfield nailed the touch-line conversion, sending the score to 10-16 at the interval.
Saints started the second half on the front foot and after just five minutes were in after an error coming out of their own half allowed the Saints to set up in the Leeds 20 metre area. They eventually worked the ball to the left where Roberts put Nathan Bannerman through a gap to go over and score. Roberts converted to level up the scores.
With 60 gone on the clock, Sinfield took the ball on the last and dropped a goal 20 metres out from the posts, putting Leeds ahead again, 16-17.
Leeds extended their lead further as Kyden Frater ran down the left wing and went over the top of Harvey Braddish to score in the corner. Sinfield’s conversion fell short of the posts, 16-21.
Saints looked for a late leveler and after a towering kick from Roberts was chased hard by Bannerman, he forced an error and gave Saints the ball 10 out. The play was set for Man of the Match George Delaney to charge towards the line and crash over under the posts with just two minutes left on the clock. Roberts converted and Saints thought we had won it in typical Saints fashion. 22-21.
But Leeds chanced their arm and a short kick-off saw the Rhinos winger tower over everyone to claim the ball and charge to the line before being stopped by Stephens. Leeds worked the ball to the middle of the field where Sinfield picked the ball up from dummy half and dropped a goal levelling the score, 22-22.
The Saints had the chance to win the game right at the death, but their drop goal attempt fell short and we were into a dramatic Golden Point extra time.
Leeds crucially won the toss and kicked off on the attack. That was to prove crucial. Saints did well to charge down two Rhinos drop-goal attempts, before the Rhinos got the ball back for a third successive set. This time they made it count as they had the numbers down the left and fed Frater in the corner who won a dramatic Grand Final. 22-26 it finished in what was a fantastic spectacle for Academy rugby league. The future for both Club’s is clearly bright.
Saints team: Ben Lane, Ben Will, Jonathon Vaughan, Dayon Sambou, Keane Gilford, Ellis Archer, Will Roberts, George Delaney, Eliot Peposhi, Kal Devine, McKenzie Buckley, Alfie Pyke, Niall Dean.
Bench: Ciaran Nolan, Harvey Braddish, Noah Stephens, Nathan Bannerman.
Tries: Keane Gilford, Ben Lane, Nathan Bannerman, George Delaney.
Goals: Will Roberts (3 from 4)
Leeds team: Alfie Edgell, Riley Lumb, Jack Smtih, Will Gatus, Kyden Frater, Kai Morgan, Jack Sinfield, Jake Higgins, Bailey Aldridge, Freddie Brennan-Jones, Ben Littlewood, Ashton Robinson, Will Shaw.
Bench: Shane Tuohey, Harrison Gilmore, Zack McSwiney, Elliot Whitaker.
Tries: Alfie Edgell (2), Kyden Frater (2), Jack Smith.
Goals: Jack Sinfield (2 from 5)
Drop Goals: Jack Sinfield (2)
TRYYYYYYYYYYYYY SAINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DELANEY GOES UNDER THE STICKS!!!!
Roberts adds the two from right in front!!!!
🔴⚪️Saints Academy 22-21 Rhinos Academy 🦏
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 25, 2022
FT: 🔴⚪️Saints Academy 22-26 Rhinos Academy 🦏
Golden point heartbreak for our U18s, but what a fantastic advert for Academy rugby league…
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) September 25, 2022