Saints v Leeds Rhinos Women
Match report as St.Helens suffered a 16-20 Golden Point Extra Time loss to Leeds Rhinos in the Betfred Women’s Super League Semi-Final.
Smith’s Women got the first major attack of the game, a flop on the last tackle gifted a six-again and the Saints tried to grind over with their first go at the Leeds line, but Shona Hoyle on the right and Luci McColm on the left were just shy of going over for the opener.
Six minutes in, Leeds again with an error on the last stripped the ball off Gaskin and the two fingers went in the air for Amy Taylor to try for the first kick of the evening from 20m out and to the right of the H’s, and over it went, 0-2.
Leeds’ first challenge of the Red V line though came straight off the kick-off as an awkward restart bounced unkindly and back into the Rhinos hands giving them good ball position. Former Saint Amy Hardcastle on her right-edge tries bulldozing in before getting an offload away to Ruby Enright but Saints held their shape well.
Saints then with a strip of the ball penalty of their own invited more pressure, with the visitors coming close twice in the left corner, on the last a Caitlin Casey cross-field kick was not taken clean by Hardcastle or Sophie Nuttall and went out of play.
Following the fifteen-minute mark, Leeds who were leading with territory and keeping Saints in their own half, again kicked across the park but McColm calmly collected it. On the follow-up set Leeds got an offside penalty 20m bang in front of the posts and elected to go for the kick to level matters, with Ruby Enright doing so, 2-2.
Following Leeds’ penalty, Saints tackled to keep Rhinos by the halfway line and then Erin Stott needed to catch a swirling Rhinos kick and did so well. Georgia Sutherland came on for Vicky Whitfield, looking to inject herself in the middles strongly.
With fifteen left in the opening period, an offside penalty allowed the Saints some much-needed play in the opposition half. Gaskin dribbled a short kick into the right corner, the North Stand of the Totally Wicked Stadium rose as Phoebe Hook dived onto it but the referee judged it as a knock-on.
A Cunningham error allowed Leeds to attack again the Red V line, but Hardcastle trying to take a pass on the move knocked on.
Taylor was taken high by the middle of the field and she placed a big kick giving Saints a good ball set. Taylor on the last drilled in a low grubber which a Leeds player played at and our #21 recovered the ball for a fresh set of six. Hooker Tara Jones as she did at Wembley caught some backing up defence near the line, she twisted and ground the ball to score the first try. Taylor added her second kick of the game to make it 8-2, with seven minutes to the break.
An important set following points, Taylor lofted a high ball to Leeds’ right winger Nuttall, she bundled it back and the Saints forced a goal line dropout. Skipper Cunningham drove close to the whitewash but got taken high, Saints welcomed the attempt to go for a kick and Taylor converted, 10-2, less than four until the interval.
The visitors would get the final attack of the opening stanza off a high ball getting knocked on by Hook. Saints held up a Leeds forward over the line, and then the hooter went – but the referee somewhat controversially allowed one more play of the ball, the Rhinos kicked and the ball was not taken by Saints, it bounced and Sophie Robinson was allowed to ground it. Following a video ref check it was given but the conversion attempt by Enright came off the posts, 10-6 for half time.
Leeds with a spring in their step following the score before the break got the ball back off a short kick-off and immediately threatened, but the Red V were firm by their own line.
The opening sets of this period saw both sides trade errors, but Saints wanted to look strongly in defence and a highlight saw them drive a Leeds woman back 20m in the tackle.
50 minutes into the game, a high Gaskin kick was knocked on, and Saints got their first major attack of the second half. Jodie Cunningham picked up the ball from dummy half and darted over, with the referee calling on the video ref to check and she was judged held up. The Red V would not be denied on the next play, a short ball to a charging Emily Rudge saw her crash in for a try in trademark style. Taylor added the extras for a 16-6 lead.
Great carries following that Rudge try from the likes of Sutherland, Hoyle and Cunningham helped turn the pressure, but a reliever came for the Rhinos after a judge of a stripped ball by the halfway line. Leeds struck back quick, Caitlin Beevers off a short ball shook off one tackle and scored. Enright added the conversion to cut the Red V’s lead to 16-12.
The Rhinos would get another quickly after, a late six-again gifted them the chance to keep attacking with Saints on the backfoot. With numbers on their right they played the ball out to Lucy Murray for another try but this one unconverted meaning the score were level with 20 minutes to go.
The referee again gave a six-again late in the count, and Leeds challenged the Saints’ defence again, but finally some relief for the Red V came after an obstruction from the Rhinos. Hoyle would make a typical bulldozing run to get the Saints within their opposition’s 20 so still short.
The nerves began creeping in as the clock ticked down with 15 minutes to go, a Taylor pass to Cunningham wasn’t good and despite the ball bouncing back a knock-on was given. Leeds got stopped by our 20, a bad kick wasn’t taken clean by Robinson.
With ten minutes left in the piece, Whitfield as she was tackled got an offload away, but Rhinos stopped the threat of the second phase in our right edge. Luci McColm would need to come off the field for a HIA, with Georgia Sutherland filling in her stead.
Leeds knocked on in their own 30m, Saints off the scrum looked to be in with Erin Stott but Rhinos compounded the error with another giving away a flop. Saints though let a golden chance slip out their hands, with numbers on their right, Gaskin threw a big pass out to the right but again despite the ball bouncing back a knock on was given.
The Saints just in the Leeds half were slowed down at the play of the ball twice, a penalty was finally given and Taylor from 45m out tried to kick the ball but it was short by about 5m and landed in Leeds hands as we entered the final five.
Leeds booted the ball right to left, Paige Travis caught it well and passed it to Hook, looking to unlock her on the wing. If not for a Leeds player just getting her into touch, 30m out and gifting more dangerous play to the Rhinos. Saints stood very strong, keeping the Rhinos out twice in the right corner and then came a Hail Mary kick, which the Red V cleared for a goal line dropout. Less than two minutes on the clock.
The Rhinos would get the final major attack of the 80 minutes, a short side play to the right and our Saints miraculously held them up. The hooter would go, and Golden Point extra time would be needed to settle proceedings.
It was a disastrous start to the extra time, Hoyle knocked on from a short kick-off, Leeds setting up the scrum 30m out. A nervous Saints would hold up a Leeds player as she charged into the in-goal. On the follow-up, Leeds kicked into space on the left edge for Robinson and the winger grounded the ball to send Rhinos into the Grand Final.
A heartbreaking end to the season for St. Helens.
St Helens Women
Starting 13: Eboni Partington, Phoebe Hook, Paige Travis, Luci McColm, Erin Stott, Amy Taylor, Faye Gaskin, Darcy Stott, Tara Jones, Vicky Whitfield, Shona Hoyle, Emily Rudge, Jodie Cunningham
Interchanges: Naomi Williams, Lucie Sams, Katie Mottershead, Georgia Sutherland
18th player: Pip Birchall
Tries: Jones (31), Rudge (51)
Conversions: Taylor 2/2
Penalties: Taylor 2/3
Leeds Rhinos Women
Starting 13: Ruby Enright, Sophie Nuttall, Amy Hardcastle, Caitlin Beevers, Sophie Robinson, Caitlin Casey, Hanna Butcher, Zoe Hornby, Keara Bennett, Isabel Northrop, Lucy Murray, Jenna Greening, Bethan Dainton
Interchanges: Jasmine Cudjoe, Kaiya Glynn, Bethany Lockwood, Isabella Sykes
18th player: Tara Moxon
Tries: Robinson (40, 83), Beevers (55), Murray (58)
Conversions: Enright 1/3
Penalties: Enright 1/1