Leeds Rhinos made their way across the Pennines looking for their fourth consecutive Women’s Super League Grand Final appearance as they looked to defend their title but they knew that they had a monumental challenge in their way as they took on a St Helens side who finished a place above them at the end of the regular season.
A Grand Final place against the York Valkyrie at the LNER Community Stadium on the 8th of October was up for grabs and the Rhinos were slight favourites after they won the round nine encounter three weeks ago by 34-22 while the sought further revenge for the defeat to Saints in the Challenge Cup Final.
Saints had never beaten the Rhinos at the Totally Wicked Stadium but were confident that today would be the day.
A Leeds ball steal on five minutes allowed Amy Taylor to kick a twenty-metre penalty goal to give Saints an early lead.
Leeds full back Ruby Enright levelled the scores on seventeen with her penalty kick from twenty-five out.
The teams were wearing one another down, it was a grind of a game and inside the opening thirty neither had really threatened the others whitewash.
On thirty-one Saints got a second set inside the Leeds twenty and on the second play of the second set Tara Jones sold a dummy and went over the line for the opening four pointer to edge Saints into the lead. Taylor added the conversion for 8-2.
Another Saints penalty for a hight tackle on thirty-six, again from the boot of Taylor, saw the lead extended to eight points but after the half time hooter had sounded a Leeds kick to the corner was missed by the Saints defence after causing all sorts of confusion before being collected by Sophie Robinson to ground. The kick hit the outside of the post and the Rhinos trailed by 10-6 at the interval.
Great Leeds defence prevented Jodie Cunningham from scoring as she was held up over the line but on the very next play Emily Rudge crashed through the Leeds defence with a straight line run before bouncing off a Leeds tackler and landing over the line to score. Taylor was on target with the kick to establish a ten-point lead.
Three minutes later and Leeds struck straight back with Caitlin Beevers taking the pass and bouncing off three Saints tacklers for a crucial Leeds try. Enright added the conversion for 12-16, the game was back on, and Leeds weren’t going to give up the dream easily.
On fifty-seven the Rhinos were back on level terms as they moved the ball from left to right with Lucy Murray dipping her shoulder and barging her way over for the third Leeds try. Enright pulled her conversion across the posts, the sides locked up with an hour on the clock.
Saints were awarded a penalty on seventy-four and Amy Taylor attempted a forty-four-metre penalty which dropped short allowing Leeds to return the ball with interest.
With a minute remaining Zoey Hornby grounded the ball just short of the line for Leeds, spurning the drop goal, and the match entered golden point.
Shona Hoyle knocked on from the kick-off, the Rhinos with the early advantage. Hornby was held up on her back over the line but on the last tackle a chip to the corner was taken and grounded by Sophie Robinson to secure the win and send Leeds into the Grand Final.
It’s Leeds who join York Valkyrie in the final in a fortnights’ time with a thoroughly deserved win which sets up a repeat of last season's Grand Final but inflicts heartache for Saints who will have to make do with the Challenge Cup win earlier in the season. Leeds had not led at any point in the opening eighty minutes, but two minutes into golden point, they snatched the win.
St Helens: Partington, Hook, Travis, McColm, Stott, Taylor (3G), Gaskin, Stott, Jones (T), Whitfield, Hoyle, Rudge, Cunningham (T). Subs: Williams, Sams, Mottershead, Sutherland. 18th Man: Birchall.
Leeds Rhinos: Enright (2G), Nuttall, Hardcastle, Beevers (T), Robinson (2T), Casey, Butcher, Hornby, Bennett, Northrop, Murray (T), Greening, Dainton. Subs: Cudjoe, Glynn, Lockwood, Sykes. 18th Man: Moxon.
Full-Time: 16-16. Golden Point: 16-20 .
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-2, 6-2, 8-2, 10-2, 10-6 :HT: 14-6, 16-6, 16-10, 16-12, 16-16 :FT: 16-20 :GP.
Lead Exchanges: St Helens – Square – St Helens – Square - Leeds.
Referee: Aaryn Belafonte.