Yates’ verdict: Saints and Leeds serve up gripping drama both on and off the field

Danny Richardson celebrates after his drop goal against Leeds Rhinos
Danny Richardson celebrates after his drop goal against Leeds Rhinos
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Saints’ chairman Eamonn McManus and Gary Hetherington, chief executive of Leeds Rhinos, may be at loggerheads over aspects of what they perceive as the future direction of Super League.

But if the sport can match its off-field activities with the kind of product which was evident on the field at Emerald Headingley on Friday night, then the 13-a-side code will go from strength to strength whoever is running the show.

No doubt the supremos of Rugby League’s most dynamic sides of the summer era, who I understand exchanged pleasantries before the kick-off, would both have been desperate win this War of the Roses showdown for obvious reasons.

But it was McManus who had the broadest smile on his face at the end of an high octane and tension-charged encounter which balanced delicately on a knife edge until the final moments.

It was left to Saints’ ice-cool half back Danny Richardson to plunder the two points with an 78th minute drop goal to earn the league leaders their ninth successive victory in all competitions and by the end of the week still in a commanding spot at the top of the table,

They are six points ahead of neighbours Wigan Warriors who will play their game in hand at Castleford on Friday.

However, scoring vital last-gasp points is nothing new to Richardson and one only needs to turn back the clock to the St Helens-Wigan Academy Grand Final on home soil two years ago when the youngster, showing nerves of steel, landed a penalty four minutes into a sudden-death ending to earn his side a 22-20 win.

His latest feat also helped Saints to cross the line on the back of a 23-22 score line in a titanic struggle when, in all honesty, it was almost cruel that one side had to finish a loser.

Maybe Justin Holbrook’s boys had built on the heart-breaking lesson they learned last season when bowing out of the play-offs against Castleford in the semi-final stages at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle following a golden point from the boot of Luke Gale and put it to good use.

But they were certainly taken down to the wire by a young, enthusiastic and injury-ravaged Leeds outift who many had predicted pre-match would be taken to the cleaners.

Instead, the Loiners came flying out of the blocks and arguably gave St Helens their toughest test from a defensive point of view this season.

But the fact that they managed to repel their rivals’ barrage is reflected by the vast improvement in defending their own line. To date they have conceded almost 100 points less than at this stage in 2017 and achieved it with almost the same squad.

Victory also ended a run of three defeats on the trot for the table-toppers against their Yorkshire opponents - much to the relief of head coach Holbrook.

He said: “It was a great game, just exactly how I expected it to be. Leeds are a really dangerous side and I’m just really happy to come away with the win.

“I thought the game management in the end was outstanding and that’s pleasing because you’ve got to win in all different fashions.

“To finish the way we did was great and obviously Danny played a massive part in that.

“You need that confidence in your half-backs because they’re going to be the big-moment type players, the clutch players of basketball. You need them to deliver and he did that.”

MATCH FACTS

Rhinos - tries: Briscoe ( 13, 43), Garbutt (53), Ferres (70).

Goals: Sutcliffe (14, 55, 61)

Saints tries: Barba (24), Lomax (30), Percival (50, Morgan(74).

Goals: Richardson (25, 51, 75).

Drop goal: Richardson(78).

Half-time: 6-10.

Full-time: 22-23.

Referee: Ben Thaler.

Attendance: 12,106.

Teams - Leeds: 24. Jack Walker; 2. Tom Briscoe, 26. Harry Newman, 22. Ash Handley, 5. Ryan Hall; 6. Joel Moon, 4. Liam Sutcliffe; 17. Mitch Garbutt, 9. Matt Parcell, 16. Anthony Mullally, 19. Brett Ferres, 30. Josh Walters, 8. Adam Cuthertson. Subs: 14. Brad Dwyer, 23. Jack Ormondroyd, 27. Cameron Smith, 32. Tom Holroyd.

Saints: 23. Ben Barba; 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 19. Regan Grace; 1. Jonny Lomax, 18. Danny Richardson; 14. Luke Douglas, 9. James Roby, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Jon Wilkin.

Subs: 6. Theo Fages, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 15. Morgan Knowles, 20. Matty Lees.