St Helens all-time great Keiron Cunningham hailed his depleted side’s 14-10 win over Leeds as one of the best in their recent history.
Saints overcame the absence of seven first-choice players through injury and suspension to condemn the Rhinos to their first defeat of the season.
Winger Tom Makinson grabbed two tries in the last 16 minutes to snatch a seventh consecutive win that maintains the only 100 per cent record in the First Utility Super League.
“It probably goes down for me as one of the greatest wins,” said Cunningham, the club’s former captain and hooker, who is now assistant to head coach Nathan Brown.
“It’s tough to think back as long as I’ve been here where we’ve dug ourselves out of a hole and hung in there.
“It was a great spectacle. It’s why you understand it’s the greatest game in the world.”
The absence of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Jon Wilkin and Kyle Amor to suspension and Alex Walmsley and Willie Manu through injury forced Brown to blood the latest forward off the production line, 19-year-old Andre Savelio, while Cunningham believes the experience gained by little-known quartet Anthony Walker, Joe Greenwood, Luke Thompson and Greg Richards in an injury-ravaged 2013 paid off handsomely on Friday night.
“We knew last year’s pain was going to be worthwhile,” he said. “We’ve built a great squad and the foundations of the club are very secure.
“We’ve always had a very good youth structure and it’s paying off now.
“For those kids to stand up to a great Leeds side and win at the end of the day is fantastic.”
At the other end of the age scale, it was a fitting way for 34-year-old Saints skipper Paul Wellens to mark his record-equalling 413th Super League appearance.
“Wello is just a true warrior,” Cunningham said. “He’s a leader and a role model for these kids.”
Leeds, who were able to bring back rested trio Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Tom Briscoe, twice held the lead, courtesy’s of Danny McGuire’s 250th try of his career and three goals from Sinfield, but, with the scores tied at 10-10, the skipper was wide with a drop goal attempt and it proved crucial.
“I thought Saints deserved their win,” said Leeds coach Brian McDermott. “I didn’t think there was much in it and I wouldn’t have felt ashamed if we had won it. It was a fair result.
“It was a tough game and I thought Saints defended extremely well.
“Momentum is a club thing and they clearly had some momentum. Yes they were missing some people but I just knew the kids they brought in would do a good job.”
The Rhinos were without hooker Paul Aiton after he went down with a virus and they lost second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan with a torn bicep at half-time.
“We all know Jonesy is a warrior but he bust his bicep in the first 15 minutes and carried on,” McDermott said. “Our physio said at half-time if I left him on he it would be a rupture and a six-month job so we kept him off for the second half but it was a huge effort.”