The greatest Grand Final there has ever been
Of Leeds' record five Super League Grand Final victories, Saturday's was by far the most remarkable. A disjointed, troubled campaign blighted by early-season injuries and a growing lack of confidence from fans in the coach was rescued by a stunning run to a barely believable Old Trafford success.
Written off all season, and again in the final at 16-8 down, Leeds produced something very special to come out on top. You have to feel for St Helens, who have now lost in five successive Grand Finals, four of them to the Rhinos. The image of young Jamie Foster lying face buried in the drenched turf as Zak Hardaker evaded his ankle-tap to score on the hooter is still vivid.
Saints youngsters have been a revelation this year. Perhaps this was a season too soon and they will no doubt return stronger. Maybe the outcome would have been different had Paul Wellens and try-scorer Michael Shenton not gone off injured, reducing a Saints side who had produced a near perfect 20-minute purple patch to hold sway after half-time to a tiring defensive line through which the rampant Rhinos ran riot.
But you just got the feeling that Leeds were going to prove their knockers wrong with the ultimate achievement, an unprecedented triumph from fifth in the table.
Dismissed all season by the experts, Leeds produced something special at Old Trafford. Photo: Getty
Rob Burrow, Super League's smallest player, produced the best performance of his life to light up what in my view was the greatest Grand Final there has ever been with its greatest ever try. In our commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, John Kear likened the score to Jason Robinson's famous try for Wigan against Leeds in 1998.
Brian McDermott's insistence on using Burrow as an impact sub rather than a starter has also been questioned. But the form it has triggered from the scrum-half has been exceptional. The break and sidestep away from Wellens for his try was stunning but arguably eclipsed by the break and dummy past Francis Meli which ended with Ryan Hall going over for the game's key score.
The match was also a triumph for video technology, with officials using it to great effect in some crucial calls. Andrew Dixon was denied a try for Saints, Brent Webb rightly awarded one for Leeds, while Tom Makinson was handed a score that no-one inside Old Trafford had seen. Referee Phil Bentham wanted to check the award of a drop-out after Webb had appeared to guide the ball behind but video official Ben Thaler spotted that Makinson had actually got his hand to the ball for the strangest of tries. A brilliant bit of work by the officials.
My main emotions as I witnessed the celebrations and commiserations from the rain-soaked Old Trafford touchline were a strange mix of pride and deflation. Five successive Grand Final defeats is tough on Saints. Sometimes sport is just not fair.
I was absolutely made up, though, for Rhinos coach McDermott and man-of-the-match Burrow. McDermott was being booed by the Leeds fans in the last home game of the season. Angry and miffed, he vowed to prove his doubters wrong. Beneath that iron exterior is a pretty sensitive guy. Even his chief executive Gary Hetherington, who deserves credit for backing his under-fire coach unreservedly, tells me McDermott needs to develop thicker skin.
But my main pride as a rugby league fan and journalist fighting to gain the sport the recognition I feel it deserves was that we had seized our opportunity to show the world what a great game ours is. For the first time ever, our entire Saturday 5 live Sport show was based at Old Trafford and our commentary live on the station, too. This was a thrill for me and I was so pleased the spectacle lived up to the billing. Reading back through Twitter messages on Saturday, there were plenty from first-time fans who are now hooked and that is brilliant.
Jamie Foster lying face buried in the drenched turf still lingers in the memory. Photo: Getty
It was a game that also vindicated the play-off system. I still believe that six teams rather than eight should make the play-offs but the epic theatre produced by a Grand Final in front of 70,000 supporters should never be removed.
There was some bad blood, however. St Helens forward Jon Wilkin was angered - again - by Ryan Bailey's actions at the end of the game, arguing that the Leeds forward showed a lack of class when celebrating victory. Bailey is far from popular and I can see Wilkin's point but Rhinos fans will see his comments as sour grapes.
Both Bailey and Wilkin were selected in an intriguing-looking 24-man England squad for the Four Nations. There is youth, experience and a bit of foreign blood in there. As expected Rangi Chase, Chris Heighington and Jack Reed are in, while I'm looking forward to seeing how good a player Gareth Ellis has become during his time in the NRL.
Leeds are rewarded with seven players in the squad, underlining their remarkable run of form given that not a single player made the Super League dream team. Eyebrows were raised by the exclusion of Burrow and Ryan Atkins but Burrow always planned to get his rib injury sorted while Atkins tells me he made himself unavailable for personal reasons. That excuse was also used by Wigan's Joel Tomkins, who now looks increasingly likely to quit league for union.
The shock inclusion in Steve McNamara's squad was Leeds second-rower or centre Carl Ablett, who was supposed to be jetting off to Las Vegas for his stag do this week. Maybe that can wait.