As always, the Rhinos came with a massive pack, but as in the last meeting at Emerald Headingley the Saints didn’t let them settle and eventually put them to the sword.
At this same stage last year, the Rhinos won the game in the first 20 minutes, but this time it was the Saints who blew them away with two tries in seven minutes.
It was Jack Welsby who made the first break from a quick play the ball taking it to the fullback before passing inside to Lewis Dodd. The scrum half had 40 metres to go but was caught when veering inside towards the posts instead of going straight for the line. But on the last Welsby ducked left and his overhead pass saw Matty Foster go in at the corner continuing his remarkable 10 match scoring run.
Seven minutes later and it was Welsby himself with another bit of magic.
The Rhinos put in a grubber which was deflected by Harry Brooks into the path of the fullback. A push off and two steps later and he was in a foot race over 90 metres outpacing the six chasers to the left corner.
But this team is not just about the flashy side of the game. It knows how to roll its sleeves up and defend with a passion for the badge and each other which they had to do for three consecutive sets as the Rhinos put the Saints under heavy pressure in the Saints 20 metre area.
The Saints weathered the storm and on the half hour put the Rhinos under similar pressure only to come up with an error with the line begging.
The visitors made the Saints pay going in for a soft try from dummy half to get within two points, but the game changer happened on the stroke of the interval.
Kye Siyani put pressure on the Rhinos last tackle kicker producing a poor kick. Three tackles later and Dodd jinked his way thorough the line, up to the fullback before feeding the supporting Josh Simm to go in at the posts. Dodd’s kick gave the Saints a two-score lead.
This was crucial because the fired-up Rhinos were always going to come out firing and that’s just what they did scoring in the right corner to close within four.
But that was as good as it got with the Saints bouncing right back. Dodd’s high last tackle kick saw captain Sam Royle challenge the fullback for the ball forcing the error which was pounced on by Nico Rizzelli to score in the right corner.
Two tries either side of the hour saw the Saints in the clear. The first came after a punishing drive from Zack Lee which left a defender on the floor. From the pay the ball Welsby jumped left, dummied, stepped inside and went over.
The Rhinos were becoming increasingly tense and a third tackle knock on in their own half was evidence of this. From the scrum the ball was fed right from Welsby to Brad Holroyd who went around his opposite number before feeding Dodd on the inside for the try.
The Saints just had to keep their nerve and hold on. Rizzelli had a breakaway 60 metre try ruled out for a knock on, but the icing on the cake was supplied by Josh Simm.
The last act of the game saw Foster from dummy half feint right then go down the short side feeding Simm who barged over in the corner to send the Saints into the Academy Grand Final.
Saints U19’s Team: Jack Welsby; Brad Holroyd, Nico Rizzelli, Josh Simm, Jumah Sambou; Owain Abel, Lewis Dodd; Kye Siyani, Paul Nash, Harry Brooks, Matty Foster, Lewis Baxter, Sam Royle (C).
Interchanges: Keenan McDaid, Zack Lee, Harvey McDaid, Jamie Pye.
Tries: Matty Foster (6), Jack Welsby (13 & 57), Josh Simm (38 & 79), Nico Rizzelli (50), Lewis Dodd (63).
Goals: Lewis Dodd 3 from 7.
Leeds Rhinos U19’s Team: Liam Whitton; Liam Tindall, Tom Barton, Ben Markland, Iwan Stephens; Harvey Spence, Jack Mallinson; Sam Moorhouse, Oliver Burton, Tyler Dupree, Sam Walters, Owen Trout, Loui McConnell.
Interchanges: Harry Anderson, Jarrod O’Connor, Liam Hamill, Bradley Martin.
Tries: Liam Hamill (31), Liam Tindall (46).
Goals: Harvey Spence 1 from 2.