With the build up to the twenty-fifth Super League Grand Final being overshadowed by Saints inedible chicken wings, St Helens and Leeds Rhinos made their way to Old Trafford for another great showdown between the two most successful sides in Super League history.
Whoever lifted the trophy would create a fairy-tale ending. A Saints victory would signal a record fourth consecutive year as Champions and ensure that their name is writ large in the pages of our great games record books. A win for the Rhinos would be a sensational end to a season which had seem them staring down the barrel of relegation before the mid-season arrival of inspirational coach Rohan Smith.
Most of the neutrals were backing the underdogs in Blue and Amber, but the bookies fancied the Saints and handicapped them by six points on the coupon. The Rhinos have never lost to Saints at Old Trafford, the last meeting being in 2011, but that wouldn´t have crossed Kristian Woolf´s mind as he plotted their downfall and sought to make sure that it would be one game too far for the Rhinos resurgence.
Leeds had first use of the ball as Saints won the toss and opted to kick towards the East Stand in the first half.
It took Saints just over two minutes to quiet the Rhinos supporters when Jonny Lomax supplied Matty Lees with a short pass to go in from twenty metres after the first penalty of the game had been conceded by James Bentley for a high tackle. Tommy Makinson added the conversion for a 6-0 lead, the perfect start for the Champions.
The Rhinos doubled down and weathered the storm, making some ground and creating opportunities but making too many poor judgements on the last play.
A Blake Austin 40-20 on fifteen gave the Rhinos good field position but they couldn´t hold onto the ball in attack. As Saints worked the ball downfield John Bennison got on the end of a Lomax grubber to ground in the right-hand corner. Makinson added the conversion from the touchline for 12-0. The Rhinos needed to find some composure.
The Saints defence was increasingly ferocious, the Rhinos unable to make any ground.
Leeds managed to scramble their defence and deny Konrad Hurrell a third Saints try on twenty-five and when Rhyse Martin lifted Lomax in the tackle two minutes later Makinson pointed at the sticks but failed to find the target. The Rhinos were riding their luck.
Liam Sutcliffe went closest for Leeds on thirty-five, but great defence held him up on the line and prevented the grounding but with thirty seconds left on the first half clock the Rhinos kept the ball alive with a pass from Ash Handley to Cameron Smith who then found Kruise Leeming who hit the Saints line and stretched over his head to score. Martin added the conversion from wide for a half time score of 6-12.
The opening five minutes of the second half was all Saints and after extensive pressure on the Leeds line Konrad Hurrell managed to get an arm free in a tackle of four Rhinos defenders and force the ball onto the ground. Makinson added the conversion, and the lead was back to twelve points.
Leeds were awarded back to back penalties on the Saints line on fifty but great Saints defence forced the ball from Sutcliffe´s grasp.
On fifty-seven Jack Welsby put in a delightful grubber under the sticks and the chase was won by Mark Percival who grounded one-handed to take the ball beyond the Rhinos. Makinson added the conversion for 24-6.
On sixty-five Martin crashed the line but was well tackled and unable to ground the ball.
With ten minutes remaining Briscoe and Martin combined for a nice one-two to cut through the Saints defence. Martin went over and then added the goal for his record breaking thirty-eighth consecutive kick and a 12-24 score line.
Lomax attemted a drop goal on seventy-nine but hit the right upright as Saints closed the game out. Lomax named as the Harry Sunderland Trophy winnner.
Saints lived up to the pre-match expectation and secured the victory to make it a record four Grand Final wins on the run as they registered their ninth final win in the last twenty-five years, now one more than tonight´s opposition. After an almost faultless regular season the Saints crowned their achievements with a confident win, the perfect farewell gift for coach Woolf.
St Helens: Bennison (T), Makinson (4G), Hurrell (T), Percival (T), Hopoate, Welsby, Lomax, Paasi, Roby, Lees (T), Batchelor, Sironen, Knowles. Subs: Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wingfield, Mata´utia.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Handley, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Briscoe, Smith, Austin, Oledzki, O´Connor, Prior, Martin (T, 2G), Bentley, Tetevano. Subs: Thompson, Walters, Leeming (T), Donaldson.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 12-4, 12-6 : HT : 16-6, 18-6, 22-6, 24-6, 24-10, 24-12 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: St Helens.
Referee: Liam Moore.