Blake Austin’s last-gasp drop goal snatched Leeds Rhinos’ first win of the Betfred Super League season as they defeated St Helens 25-24 at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday.
It was the Rhinos’ first win against the Saints since 2018 and their first meeting with the side that they suffered Grand Final heartbreak against in 2022. In a match that was ferocious to say the least, Saints centre Konrad Hurrell was sent off in the dying minutes for a shoulder charge, minutes after Leeds’ Sam Walters got away with one as the Rhinos were awarded a penalty due to Jack Welsby’s reaction.
The officials’ decisions late in the game surrounding the drama of the shoulder charges will receive a lot of scrutiny and Paul Wellens’ side will feel aggrieved, but it was a stunning game of rugby league from start to finish.
Leeds showed they were willing to take risks to try and break down the World Club champions in the early stages and they got their reward. Captain Ash Handley finished off a fine move from 80 yards which included Nene Macdonald and Richie Myler. Rhyse Martin then converted to get the Rhinos off to a flying start.
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They quickly added pressure for a second but this sparked the hosts into life and they conjured up an instant response with Joey Lussick getting himself over the try line. Tommy Makinson then converted to pull the Saints level. Wellens’ side then started to grow in confidence and they soon found themselves in front when Lewis Dodd, the match-winner against Penrith Panthers, crossed the line after some excellent movement to get through the Leeds line.
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Leeds didn’t let themselves drop despite losing their lead. They still looked adventurous when they went forward and through a sublime piece of play, Martin burst forward chasing a kick and he managed to cross the line under pressure before converting. But for all their exciting play offensively, Rohan Smith’s side were letting themselves down defensively. A mix-up between Blake Austin and Derrell Olpherts gave Dodd an easy second try of the match before Makinson made his third conversion.
The Rhinos applied some pressure on the Saints in the closing stages of the first half but the hosts were able to force them to make errors as they pushed the offensive line back to head into the break with an 18-12 lead.
It seemed like all the hard work the visitors put in during the first half was going to be undone when Mark Percival extended the Saints’ lead shortly after the break, to which Makinson converted. Makinson was then presented with a penalty opportunity but he surprisingly couldn’t capitalise which left the Rhinos with a glimmer of hope for a comeback.
Leeds continued to push to find a route back into the match and a smart play saw Cameron Smith burst through and get over the line to reduce the deficit before Martin’s conversion took them within six points of the Saints. Smith’s men were then given a huge let-off as Makinson thought he had scored after chasing down a kick, only to have been ruled out for a knock-on.
Martin then scored his second try of the match before converting to level the score and you felt that the visitors had what was needed to get their first win of the season. And they certainly did with Austin’s drop goal which secured an invaluable victory for Smith and his players, who will take great confidence from this triumph. Bring on more matches like this throughout the season.