They are the two most successful sides in Super League history, with eight Grand Final wins apiece. Success in this competition is synonymous with St Helens and Leeds Rhinos but the harsh reality is that this year, only one of those looks likely to win a record-breaking ninth title in the modern era.
Make no mistake about it, there have been shoots of improvement in some of Leeds’ performances since Rohan Smith took charge six weeks ago. You could even argue this final scoreline was a shade harsh on them. But there are key moments in games like these which split the side now six points clear at the top and hunting a fourth successive title, and the one still languishing outside the playoffs as we enter the second half of the season.
Take the passage of play when the game was finely poised at 12-6 in St Helens’ favour midway through the first half. Leeds kept the ball alive in thrilling fashion but ultimately failed to breach the Saints’ defensive line. Two minutes later, the hosts did exactly the same but this time, Regan Grace grounded in the corner to make it a two-score game again and in truth, the game always felt like theirs from that moment.
Agnatius Paasi’s second-half try, which came directly from a Zak Hardaker error for the visitors, was another sign of how ruthless the reigning champions can be if they are in the mood. They were not at their best here but unfortunately for this Leeds side, they are not quite on the level of their great rivals as things stand.
Leeds threatened in patches, but it is clear they are still a work in progress under Smith. After falling 12-0 behind early on here via tries from Konrad Hurrell and Alex Walmsley, things looked ominous for Leeds before a sublime solo effort from Harry Newman halved the deficit. However, when Grace finished a wonderful St Helens team move – despite there being a suspicion of a knock-on from the Welsh winger – it swung the balance of power back in the Saints’ favour.
From there, they did not really let up. The former Leeds favourite Hurrell was one of the Rhinos’ scourges here crossing twice on the night, with his second after half-time making it 20-6 to the hosts. Leeds responded through Bodene Thompson but within three minutes, any hopes of a comeback were quelled when Paasi crashed over after Hardaker lost the ball when returning a kick from deep.
Leeds, unfortunately, then proceeded to implode. Thompson was sin-binned for a trip as the game entered the final quarter and in that ten-minute period without him, Jonny Lomax’s precision pass sent Joe Batchelor through for another try before Jack Welsby fed Dan Norman. To compound Leeds’ misery, Zane Tetevano was then sent off for a high tackle on Hurrell which will likely earn him a lengthy suspension as Thompson came back on before the former St Helens forward James Bentley was then sin-binned, and Walmsley scored his second in the final minute to compound the Rhinos’ woes.