Michael Shenton blow cost Saints, says Paul Wellens
St Helens joint skipper Paul Wellens pinpointed the loss of injured Michael Shenton as a key factor in Saturday's latest Grand Final defeat by Leeds.
Wellens was replaced eight minutes into the second half after aggravating a well-kept secret Achilles problem which had almost caused him to miss the game.
But Shenton's elbow injury, with Saints 16-8 up, proved a final turning point.
"Things conspired against us. Losing Michael Shenton was a huge blow, a real killer for us," said Wellens.
"Defensively on that right side he's been fantastic all year. It disrupted the side.
"Both myself and Shenny leaving the field wasn't ideal, but more so Michael Shenton.
"I was struggling with my Achilles - I was on one leg - and probably benefited the team when I went off because I thought young Tom Makinson had a fantastic game.
"But Leeds have got a lot of quality players and you have to give them credit."
Rhinos' late matchwinning burst to hand their opponents a fifth straight Old Trafford defeat, came after Saints looked to have turned the 14th Super League Grand Final when they came from 8-2 down at the break to lead 16-8 with tries from Makinson and Shenton.
"Our response to being behind at half-time was fantastic," said Wellens, who equalled Leon Pryce's record of nine Grand Final appearances but has now lost more than he has won.
"We looked comfortable and good value for our lead. But, like us, they fell behind and came back.
"It was pretty harsh on us. It certainly doesn't get any easier. But we'll just have to dust ourselves off and go again."
Saints had hoped to give Wellens' co-captain James Graham a fitting send-off but, just like Keiron Cunningham 12 months earlier, the England prop's career also ended on a note of major anti-climax - and he now prepares to embark on a new challenge in Australia.
Graham was too disappointed to say anything afterwards. But his front row colleague James Roby summed up the agony of a nightmare fourth defeat to Leeds in five years at the Theatre of Dreams - and their fifth in a row following the even more painful 22-10 defeat by local rivals Wigan a year ago.
"I'm sick of talking about losing here now," said Roby, who was in the St Helens team that beat Hull in the 2006 final but has been on the losing side ever since.
"From a personal point of view this one hurts the most because I've contributed more than I have in previous years, playing full games, and I feel more part of the achievement.
"We clawed our way back into the game. But then Leeds responded. We were definitely in control but Leeds ran away with it again."