St Helens demonstrated their resilience to grind out a 6-4 win over Leeds in the opening game of the 2017 Betfred Super League season.
Leeds, who endured a miserable season in 2016, were the better team in the first half and deserved their 4-0 lead but lost out in a scrappy battle of attrition at the newly-named Totally Wicked Stadium.
Both teams looked distinctly rusty but Saints deserve much credit for the way they coped without injured scrum-half Matty Smith and overcame the loss of England full-back Jonny Lomax with a head injury just before half-time.
The Rhinos also had their injury worries, with skipper Danny McGuire pulling out before kick-off with a quad problem which gave the chance for his old half-back partner Rob Burrow to lead the side on his 500th career appearance.
England academy international Danny Richardson was given the chance to go up against Burrow, a man 14 years his senior, and he proved a useful deputy for broken-leg victim Smith.
Saints coach Keiron Cunningham sprung a surprise by starting James Roby on the bench and, although Tommy Lee showed some useful touches on his debut, the home side looked sharper when the England hooker entered the action.
Saints’ calamitious first half was best illustrated by the performance of left winger Adam Swift who put his side under pressure with two handling errors deep inside his own half and produced another fumble on the Leeds tryline when gifted a scoring chance.
They twice managed to get over the line only for Dominique Peyroux and Tommy Makinson to be prevented from grounding the ball due to Leeds’ superb rearguard defence in which full-back Ashton Golding excelled.
Saints, too, defended well and the only try was scored by Leeds centre Joel Moon, who handed off Super League debutant Ryan Morgan to open the scoring midway through the first half.
St Helens drew level two minutes into the second half when stand-off Theo Fages, their best player, dummied his way over after prop Alex Walmsley had become the third Saints man to be held up over the line and Mark Percival’s conversion put his side in front.
The defining moment came on 47 minutes when Leeds’ England centre Kallum Watkins split the Saints defence to get Liam Sutcliffe charging for the line only to be denied by a magnificent flying tackle by Makinson.
Saints had plenty more defence to do to hang onto their lead but they managed it despite a frantic finish in which Leeds launched a series of dangerous attacks.
Fages speaking to Sky Sports said: “I’m really proud of the boys.
“It’s been a long preseason, and the first home game we wanted to play well, and I thought we did.
“Our defence was strong in the first half, it was 6-4, without many tries but it was good from both teams. Our defence won us the game”