Super League: St Helens 36-10 Leeds Rhinos - leaders beat dogged visitors to maintain buffer
|Betfred Super League|
|St Helens (24) 36|
|Tries: Naiqama, McCarthy-Scarsbrook 2, Coote, Makinson, Bentley Goals: Coote 6|
|Leeds (6) 10|
|Tries: Dwyer, L. Briscoe Goals: Sutcliffe|
Leaders St Helens were made to work for their 17th Super League win in 2019 but had enough quality to come out 36-10 winners against Leeds.
After two tries in the first four minutes, Saints threatened to cut loose but Leeds were dogged, particularly in the second half, to make it a contest.
Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook crossed twice to add to Kevin Naiqama, Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson and James Bentley tries.
Leeds' tries - one in each half - came from Brad Dwyer and Luke Briscoe.
The departure of Zeb Taia with an arm injury was a blow for Saints, as he was withdrawn midway through the second half.
It sets up next week's game against second-placed Warrington nicely for Saints, who are six points clear; Leeds are joint-bottom on 12 points, just above Hull KR.
While there is still a third of the season to play, the Rhinos find themselves immersed in a genuine battle against the drop.
- Warrington ease to win over Wakefield
- Wigan score six tries in win at Giants
- Salford boost top-five hopes with win
Saints' evidence of champion quality was on display in this game as, having survived an utter nightmare opening five minutes, Leeds fought back to give them issues in defence and attack.
While they looked unlikely to lose the game, it was not always comfortable in a game bristling with ferocity and intent in keeping with the many classic encounters between the teams in the summer era.
Jack Walker spilled a Coote bomb in the first set to allow Naiqama to scamper across and then Jonny Lomax skipped on the outside and sent McCarthy-Scarsbrook steaming through a gap for try two just minutes later.
Coote himself was a threat throughout, dummying through the line for the third try, but Brad Dwyer sneaked a try from acting half-back to hand the Rhinos a lifeline before Justin Holbrook's Red Vee delivered the try of the match on the cusp of the half-time hooter as Makinson took to the air to ground in the corner.
Briscoe's score in the second period was reward for Leeds' improved endeavour, as their forwards dished out some physicality to the Saints pack and tempers started to boil over.
Yet, McCarthy-Scarsbrook's second and a late score for Bentley simmered things down again and put the result beyond doubt.
St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook told BBC Radio Merseyside:
"We scored some good tries and defended well against a dangerous side, they have threats everywhere.
"We did a good job of that, in the second half we came up with a few errors but still defended well and that's the main thing.
"I've never seen anyone better than Tommy [Makinson]. I love him, what he brings to our side, he does the hard stuff and is good enough to do the flashy stuff as well.
"It's great to watch and credit to him."
Leeds Rhinos interim head coach Richard Agar:
"It was a horror start, Jack dropped the ball which was difficult to take with the sun and I thought we had a really poor reaction for the next 20 minutes basically.
"We spoke at half-time that this could go either way, we thought at 24-10 going into the last 20 minutes we had to start to fight our way back into the game.
"Our skill execution and errors were always going to make it difficult to come back but we did show a much better response in the second half."
St Helens: Coote; Grace, Percival, Naiqama, Makinson; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Smith, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Interchanges: Lees, Ashworth, Amor, Bentley
Leeds Rhinos: Walker; T. Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, L. Briscoe; Sutcliffe, Myler; Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Singleton, Watkins, Ferres, Merrin
Interchanges: Donaldson, Oledzki, Cuthbertson, Parcell