Saints produced a spirited second half comeback but were undone by a Leeds side led by ageless warrior Jamie Peacock.
Peacock produced a vintage performance to ensure his final season as a player will be marked by another trip to Wembley as he helped Leeds to a 24-14 win over St Helens in an epic Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final at Warrington.
In a furiously fast-paced match there were several candidates for tries of the season but it was Peacock’s 30-metre charge for the line that will live longest in the memory as the cup holders came up with a magnificent display to secure a fifth final in six years.
The former England skipper, now at the ripe old age of 37, will make his seventh final appearance before he hangs up his boots while Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai will also play at Wembley in their last seasons with the club.
However, some of the gloss was taken from their triumph by the likely loss of another stalwart, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who was carried off on a stretcher eight minutes from the end after being badly hurt in a tackle.
As the back-row forward was administered oxygen on the pitch, there was a poignant moment as Leeds coach Brian McDermott was seen comforting the player’s grandmother on the touchline.
For the first quarter it was all Leeds, who demonstrated their intent from the kick-off by running the ball from deep and created all sorts of problems for their opponents with their slick offload game.
Their early enterprise was rewarded when full-back Zak Hardaker sliced through Saints’ defence for a fourth-minute try - the 150th of his career - after centre Joel Moon had switched the point of attack.
Sinfield added the conversion and increased his side’s lead to 8-0 with a 13th-minute penalty as St Helens struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Such was the relentless pace of the game, that both teams took off their leading front rowers Peacock and Alex Walmsley (St Helens) within 16 minutes and the introduction from the bench of Andre Savelio and Atelea Vea pepped up Saints’ attack.
The Rhinos’ game management was superb, with Sinfield once more pulling the strings to telling effect, and it was no surprise when they went further in front, a lightning break from substitute Rob Burrow creating the space for Sinfield and Kallum Watkins to get Moon over for a superbly-worked try.
As Saints eventually came more into the contest, forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook was penalised as he made a second lunge for the line but centre Mark Percival grabbed a try three minutes before the break following brilliant work from a refreshed Walmsley and dangerous full-back Adam Quinlan.
The interval could not come quick enough for both sets of players, who looked out on their feet as they trooped off, but the game continued at break-neck speed in the second half.
Saints suffered a blow when Vea limped off five minutes after the restart and they fell further behind when Peacock took Burrow’s pass to go on his rampaging run to the line, cheekily side-stepping Quinlan before finishing with a swallow dive.
Sinfield’s third goal made it 18-4 and had Danny McGuire been able to take Hardaker’s pass with open space in front of him, the game would surely have been over there and then.
But Saints made the most of the let-off and struck back with two tries in three minutes to set up a tense finish.
The impressive Savelio burrowed his way to the line after James Roby’s grubber kick came back off defender Carl Ablett and then provided the pass that got Percival over for his second try.
It was three tries apiece but Luke Walsh could manage only one conversion and Leeds made sure when Watkins took Sinfield’s pass to cut a swaythe through Saints line for a fourth try.