In a heart-wrenching match at Headingley Stadium, the Leeds Rhinos suffered a narrow defeat of 13-12 against the reigning Super League champions, St Helens, after two periods of golden point.
The closely contested game saw the Rhinos take the lead in the first half, but despite limited substitutes in the second half, the home side displayed remarkable spirit in defending against their formidable opponents. However, it was St Helens’ Lewis Dodd who sealed the victory with a crucial drop goal.
Having faced defeat in the Challenge Cup prior to this fixture, Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith made minimal changes to the lineup for the visit of St Helens. Sam Lisone’s calf injury paved the way for Sam Walters to start at prop, while Mikolaj Oledzki found himself on the bench. Additionally, Richie Myler celebrated his 300th Super League appearance as he continued in the full-back position, and England international Ash Handley returned to the wing alongside Nene Macdonald.
The match, known for its fiery clashes on the field, had fans from both teams buzzing with anticipation from the very start. After a series of exchanges in possession, it was the Leeds crowd that erupted in cheers as the home side opened the scoring. Taking advantage of Saints’ last tackle kick, the Rhinos swiftly moved the ball out to the edge, where Rhyse Martin seized the opportunity.
Breaking through the tackles of Konrad Hurrell and Jonny Lomax, the Papua New Guinea international burst into the backfield, with only the full-back to beat. Employing excellent support play from Myler and Handley, Martin reciprocated by setting up Handley’s try, marking his return from illness.
Motivated by the enthusiastic South Stand, Nene Macdonald spearheaded an inspired break that propelled the Rhinos deep into St Helens territory. However, a knock-on derailed what could have been a promising attacking set. Taking advantage of the opportunity, St Helens mounted an assault on the Leeds line, culminating in a wide move finished by Tommy Makinson in the corner. Regrettably for the winger, he failed to convert the try, resulting in a score of 6-4 after 12 minutes.
St Helens continued to apply pressure on the Leeds line following a poor restart from Myler, which went out on the full. Although they forced a repeat set, Curtis Sironen fumbled Lewis Dodd’s pass, and Leeds seized the chance to regain possession.
Struggling to counter, the Rhinos found their breakthrough when Cameron Smith stripped the ball from Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s loose carry, giving Leeds a much-needed boost. Looking to convert possession into points, Leeds advanced into St Helens territory before Myler’s fifth tackle kick eluded both Makinson and Jack Welsby, with Handley applying pressure. Smith was perfectly positioned to touch down, and Martin’s successful conversion extended the scoreline to 12-4.
As the first half progressed, the Rhinos were forced to reshuffle their lineup due to injuries sustained by Gannon, Newman, and Aidan Sezer.
Despite the challenges, the home side adeptly weathered St Helens’ relentless pressure. Will Hopoate came close to scoring from a Dodd kick into the in-goal area, but the attempt was deemed too long. Welsby and Makinson combined down the right edge, contributing to another promising attack, yet the Rhinos managed to intercept Lussick’s kick on the last play.
Almost reaping the rewards of their strong defence, Leeds saw Walters come agonisingly close to crashing over in the final five minutes of the half. However, the video referee confirmed that he fell short of the white line, denying the Rhinos a last chance at scoring before the break.
Entering the second half with reduced numbers, Leeds adopted a more expansive approach to their attacks, spreading the ball across the field. St Helens capitalised on the situation and scored the opening points of the half as Curtis Sironen crashed onto a pass from Jack Welsby. Makinson’s successful conversion narrowed the gap to just two points, a mere five minutes into the new half.
Sloppy errors from Paul Wellens’ side provided Leeds with a golden opportunity to score. Three consecutive penalties propelled the Rhinos towards the try line, and as Holroyd burst through the defense, his offload to Justin Sangare was initially fumbled by the French international but eventually grounded for a sensational try. However, the video referee disallowed the attempt, spotting a knock-on by Sangare, who had juggled the ball off Sione Mata’utia.
Saints swiftly responded, levelling the score with Makinson converting a penalty goal following a shoulder charge from Sangare, intensifying the match further.
A prime opportunity presented itself for St Helens when Tee Ritson created space on the edge with a break, but his pass inside to Lussick was too high for the hooker to catch. Leeds retaliated by kicking wide, which was intercepted by Martin, yet the chance ultimately went to waste.
With a frantic final ten minutes, the game could have swung in either team’s favour. Leeds found themselves reduced to twelve players as James McDonnell received a red card for an incident involving Lomax. Sensing an opening, Dodd attempted a drop goal following a powerful carry by Hurrell, but his kick missed the mark. In the closing moments, Myler also missed a one-pointer as the full-time hooter sounded, resulting in both sides preparing for an additional ten minutes of golden point play.
Both teams took turns attempting drop goals during the early stages of the first period of golden point. Makinson, Dodd, and Handley all failed to convert their chances. However, the crucial opportunity fell to Leeds when Mata’utia’s late hit on Oledzki earned the back-rower a sin-binning. Martin opted to go for two points, but the ball fell agonisingly short of the posts, leaving the scoreline deadlocked.
Dodd missed his third drop goal attempt at the start of the second five-minute period. Subsequently, Leeds launched a determined pursuit of a try, with strong runs from Corey Johnson and Jarrod O’Connor. However, Myler lost possession while attempting to spread the ball wide, allowing St Helens to make a decisive move. James Bell and Alex Walmsley propelled Wellens’ side closer to victory before Dodd successfully kicked the winning drop goal, securing the win for the visitors.