Super League: Leeds Rhinos 46-18 St Helens
|Leeds (22) 46|
|Tries: Watkins, Leuluai, Hall 2, Handley 3, Ablett Goals: Sinfield 7|
|St Helens (0) 18|
|Tries: Jones, Turner, Amor Goals: Percival 3|
Leeds Rhinos moved three points clear of champions St Helens at the top of Super League by winning a Challenge Cup semi-final dress rehearsal.
Ash Handley ran in his second hat-trick against the Saints this season, capping a success built on a 22-0 four-try first-half demolition of the Saints.
Ryan Hall got two tries, while Kallum Watkins, Kylie Leuluai and Carl Ablett also scored for Leeds.
Josh Jones, Jordan Turner and Kyle Amor were the St Helens try scorers.
Neither side would have won huge points for artistic merit in an error-strewn encounter between the summer era's two most successful clubs, in which the visitors were particularly off colour.
That was highlighted by Leeds' first score when Watkins crashed in on the right after Saints full-back Mark Percival offloaded straight to Rhinos hooker Paul Aiton.
|Leeds have dominated St Helens in Super League Grand Finals, beating them in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011|
|St Helens had the better of Leeds in the play-off series in 1999, 2001, 2007 and 2008.|
Smart work from Aiton again put in Leuluai - making his 250th appearance - before the Kiwi prop made the drive that led to Hall going in following a sliding right-to-left move.
Jimmy Keinhorst dropped over the line and Kevin Sinfield missed with a drop goal attempt, but Handley made up for those misses with a fourth Leeds try when he touched down in the corner.
Saints were denied a first-half score when James Roby was penalised for a knock on but Jones scored after the break when Luke Walsh's kick was tapped into his path.
Zak Hardaker was placed on report and sin-binned for flipping Travis Burns in the tackle - but, even with 12 men, Ablett's smart finish and sublime move for Handley's second continued Leeds dominance.
Turner and Amor went in as Saints finally showed their mettle but Handley and Hall ensured a league double over Saints for Brian McDermott's side - four weeks before they meet again to battle for a place at Wembley.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott.
"We nailed our chances early. I don't think we were actually that dominant.
"We were not brilliant but we did score 22 points in that first half. We were really clinical when we got the chance to score.
"Ash Handley must be very pleased. Because he's young, people continue to have a crack at him and he keeps coming up with the answers.
"He's got a fair amount of work rate in him as well as some of the nice finishes."
St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham:
"This has been on the horizon. We weren't great against Castleford, we weren't great for 50-plus minutes against Widnes and this was probably the worst start in St Helens' history.
"As coach, I've got to take the brunt of this and, as a local boy who's an ex-player, I want to apologise to all the Saints fans who made the journey on a Friday evening to come across and watch that debacle.
"By the time we maintained some composure, we were chasing 22 points. If you give Leeds chances, they'll score tries. Expectations are high. We like to think we're a world-class club and that's not good enough.
"A lot of senior players let their team-mates down. Amongst it all there was actually some good defensive stuff. Jon Wilkin was tireless in leading from the front. It's a pity 16 blokes didn't go with him."
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Keinhorst, Ward, Ablett.
Interchanges: Burrow, Delaney, Cuthbertson, Garbutt
St Helens: Percival; Dawson, Fleming, Turner, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Masoe, Wilkin, Greenwood, Jones
Interchanges: Walmsley, Flanagan, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Savelio
Referee: Richard Silverwood