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Leeds & St Helens ready to rumble - again

Paul Fletcher | 17:39 UK time, Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A sporting trilogy will be completed when Leeds Rhinos take on St Helens in Saturday's Super League Grand Final.

You could argue that it speaks volumes about the lack of the depth in the competition and offers proof of Super League's predictability.

The Rugby Football League tried to shake things up with the restructuring of the play-offs from six teams to eight but the net result has proved the same - the top two teams at the end of the regular season will contest the final.

And although there is a large part of me that would like to see some different faces at Old Trafford on Saturday, I think it is wholly fitting that the best two sides will square up once again in the season's final domestic clash.

Yet as much as things have stayed the same, plenty has changed from the previous two finals.

Leeds centre Keith Senior (left) and Saints' Lee Gilmour exchange wordsThere is plenty of spice when Leeds meet St Helens

"I think each Grand Final is totally different," said Saints second row Jon Wilkin, who will be playing in his fourth on Saturday.

"The last two are almost impossible to compare, with different players and coaches. The only similarity is the clubs involved. The previous two results will have no bearing on Saturday."

Saints went into the 2007 and 2008 finals as favourites. On each occasion they had finished one point clear of Leeds during the regular season and beaten the Rhinos in their opening play-off match to book their place at Old Trafford.

The 'woolybacks' from Knowsley Road were also Challenge Cup holders and I thought they were the best attacking team in the competition in both years. Some of my colleagues vehemently disagree and point to the considerable attacking talents of Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Ali Lauitiiti and Brent Webb to bolster their argument.

I'm not knocking the pedigree of the champions, but I honestly believe the ability Saints had under former coach Daniel Anderson to blow a team away with a concerted burst of attacking football was unmatched.

Not that we saw much of that in the last two Grand Finals. Each time Saints were beaten by the better side on the night as Leeds exuded incredible self-belief and showed a level composure and execution that eluded their opponents.

This season Leeds have been the most consistent side and deservedly collected the League Leaders' Shield for the first time since 2004. The stand-out moment from their victory over Catalans Dragons last Friday was Danny McGuire's scintillating try after he collected Scott Donald's kick in-field.

Saints stuttered towards the end of the season, losing four of their final five games before the play-offs. They haven't scored more than 15 points in a match since they thrashed Harlequins on 25 July.

It is significant that the talking point after Saints edged out rivals Wigan was Sean Long's brilliant, desperate tackle on Joel Tomkins, dragging his opponent's leg into touch. Doughty defence, not free-flowing rugby, has taken Saints to Old Trafford.

As full-back Wellens admitted when looking forward to the final: "Defensively we have been pretty good over the last couple of weeks but we are going to have to find some points from somewhere."

Lose on Saturday and Saints end a season trophyless for the first time since 2003 but I suspect they are hardly heartbroken by their underdog status with the bookmakers. A month or so ago I wondered if they would make it this far.

At least the restructured play-offs have ensured both Saints and Leeds go into the match battle-hardened - contrast that with the last two years, when Saints had played one game in a month prior to the final - so nobody should be caught cold on Saturday regardless of the unpredictable Manchester weather.

I think it is also worth pointing out that Saints, in their fourth straight Grand Final, have both Long and Kieron Cunningham in their side. They are the players who dictate play for Saints, manoeuvre the team around the park, and both were sorely missed when they were out through injury at different points during the season.

With Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield in their ranks, Leeds themselves are hardly lacking leaders and what gives the final real spice is the rumoured ill-feeling between the teams.

There has been talk of cliques while on international duty and I heard that scant recognition was given to any awards won by the other team at the 2008 Man of Steel dinner.

Leeds' recent 18-10 win over Saints at Headingley Carnegie contained plenty of collision. Keith Senior's brouhaha with Jon Wilkin showed the rivalry between the Super League's top two always has the capacity to boil over. I spoke to Wilkin about the incident and he was adamant that he had not said anything to warrant one flush on the chin. Respect between the sides might be grudging but Wilkin did tell me the veteran centre had executed a very decent connection.

Sean Long will be making his first appearance for St Helens.Long will be waving goodbye to Saints on Saturday after 12 years at the club

Leeds coach Brian McClennan puts it like this (and I'm not inclined to disagree): "This is the third straight time we've opposed each other in the final, so there is a real history.

"I'm sure everybody that comes along is going to enjoy the contest."

Then, of course, there is the Long factor - or the pirate as the dreadlocked one seems to be known these days. The furore that has followed the release of his colourful autobiography Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal has at least partially eclipsed the build-up to the final.

The 33-year-old attended a book signing hours before his team's match against Wigan while his claims that Bradford players also laid bets on Saints to lose in THAT infamous match against Bradford in 2004 have dominated the headlines.

Saturday is Long's final match for Saints after 12 years at the club and as several of his team-mates have pointed out this week, the mercurial scrum-half is a man who at times seems to write his own scripts.

After 2,320 minutes of rugby league per side, it all boils down to one atmospheric Old Trafford evening.

Saints Australian centre Matt Gidley said earlier in the week that he felt the team who plays closest to their potential will win. Leeds stand-off Danny McGuire reckons: "If you look at it from an outsider's point of view, it's a 50-50 game."

I've got a slight feeling for Saints but I won't be putting money on it?!

You can follow me throughout the season at


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice to see a rugby league blog!

    I think the rivalry is more intense than you think Paul, Leeds/Saints in my opinion is turning into one of the biggest rivalries in super league.

    Its got to play on the mind of the Saints players that they cant beat Leeds in the big one? Regardless of what Jon “Glass Chin” Wilkin says - Will he really want to get up into Seniors face on Saturday?

    Am expecting Leeds to make it three in a row and make history!

  • Comment number 2.

    How good to see a Rugby League blog.

    Should be a great game, really looking forward to going to OT.

  • Comment number 3.

    Moc, how would your chin cope with a Keith Senior punch? I would have gone down like a sack of spuds as well.

    Leeds are favourites but I'm hoping for Saints to turn on the style like they can. if both teams play their best, Saints by 2 points.

  • Comment number 4.

    Having the best two teams in the Final is fine by me. unlike Sean Long's hair which is a disaster.

  • Comment number 5.

    Saintjock im smart enough to stay out of Seniors face in the first place!

    How can you say if both teams play their best Saints will win? Your saying Saints on top form is better than Leeds on top form? Bit daft seeing as what the Rhinos have achived in the past few years, and the form of the past month or so.

  • Comment number 6.

    Moc - I don't think I'm underestimating the Leeds/Saints rivalry. I think it is cracking and good for the game. I love a bit of bristle in rugby league. It really gets you out of your seat when the big hits go in.

    As for Sean Long - clearly a law unto himself at times. Daft as a brush and hugely likeable. Say what you like, he clearly has personality.

    All the players seem to be describing this as a 50/50 match but Saints needs to find something extra if they are to win. I think they might just do that.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good read, looking forward to watching the Final

  • Comment number 8.

    Hard to see a Saints victory Paul,the present team at their very best would not come close to the Saints team of three seasons ago,Leeds on the other hand have steadily improved over the last three years,they are bigger faster and more skillful than Saints.The only hope Saints have is to quieten certain Leeds players. They failed to do this last time out and I feel they will fail again.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think that you'll find that the only people that think long is "hugely likeable" are saints fans. The rest of the paying rugby league community view him as either a annoyance, a liability or an embarrassment. The way that he left the last Lions tour tells you all you need to know about the man as did the way he complained after his ban for betting against his own team had expired.

    That said, this year's grand final certainly does have an undercurrent of ill-feeling to it and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few players in the bin (or spark out in Wilkin's case). The game could demonstrate all of the excitement that rugby league fans rave about; aggression, fast flowing play and uncompromising defence.

    I for one am looking forward to the teams ripping into one another!

  • Comment number 10.

    BlackKnight74 - I don't agree. Yes, Long let GB down in a big way when he bailed in 2006 but I reckon lots of people like him. In an age where loads of sports stars are pretty bland, you've got to admit he has got lots of personality.

    overball13 - Your reasoning is pretty sound but Saints didn't win with supposedly the superior team in 07 and 08. It all comes down to what happens on the day.

  • Comment number 11.

    After initially thinking 'oh no, not again' I'm now really looking forward to this one and gutted I cannot go. I am not bothered who wins as long as it isn't Saints...or Leeds come to think of it!

    And in true Rugby League fashion, after everyone moaning about Catalans making the play offs from 8 being 'a farce', they are now moaning about the top 2 playing in the final!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Great blog Paul...

    I fancy the Rhino's again to be honest but this will be a cracker with Shaun Long playing his last game for Saints.

    No shortage of bad blood either with Graham v Lueluia, Wilkin v Senior and Jamie Peacock v everybody who dares!!

    GAME ON!

  • Comment number 13.


    Saints have been playing well below par and Leeds have been on top form, yet Rhinos didnt beat them by much at headingley. With all the talent Saints have, they are a better team. On top form, not many of the leeds team would get in the Saints team. I would have Peacock, Sinfield, Senior and Hall, but the rest aren't quite as good

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Your entitled to your opinion saintjock but I think its complete rubbish!

    In 2007 first play-off game at KR you didn’t beat Leeds by much but we still beat you in final. Leeds has more than enough skill, speed & power to beat Saints.

    And I think you’ll find Leeds are the better team of the two, and they’ve got the silverware to prove it!

  • Comment number 16.

    oh dear someone's upset because i questioned Mr Saint Ganson's refereeing of Saturday's forthcoming match - not open to debate here are we ?

  • Comment number 17.

    Agree with most comments - am desperate to see the match, am expecting a real cracker.

    However got to tip my hat to the Dragons for another fantastic end to the season (where are all those who criticised them now) & to Brian Noble who I think had pulled Wigan out of the mire & even though it had been flagged for months was still a shock.

    Next thing is bring on the antipodeans - it just gets better & better...!

  • Comment number 18.

    sounds to me paul that your a bit of a saints fan, there again they all come out of the woodwork come grand final time,

  • Comment number 19.

    wrlfcancientandloyal - didn't actually see what you put but if it was legally dodgy, it will have gone, no question.

    I would hate it if you thought we are trying to stifle debate - if you were asking about the suitability of an official from St Helens officiating in a Grand Final involving Saints, then I think that is a topic worthy of debate.

  • Comment number 20.

    blue-eyedleodensian - completely wrong. Couldn't even find it on a map, sort of.

  • Comment number 21.

    Saints have big powerful wingers in Meli and Gardner but our two wingers,Donald and Hall are faster and i feel this is where we should try and exploit them.It will be vey close.
    Gidley and Senior are both superb at putting their wingers over.Graham v Peacock is going to provide some more fireworks and Long v Burrow is another mouthwatering prospect.The real winner is the game of rugby league and i for one can't wait to go .

  • Comment number 22.

    I think the new play off system has come up trumps, bit gimmicky yes but next year the fight for the league shield will mean that bit more because whoever wins might get to pick the eight place team

    Secondly both teams in the final will be match fit, previously if you won every game youd go into the final with 1 game in a month

    Thirdly the cream has risen to the top, a vital ingrdiant of any competition

    As for the game itself i think its too tough to call but a leeds fan i just hope our forwards can give us the platform because if they do our broken field running will win us the match
    Come on Leeds

  • Comment number 23.

    Once again very well written article Paul. I wish the BBC gave Rugby League more coverage as the quality of your blog suggests that the knowledge is there and waiting to be used! I look forward to the next one
    P.s Leeds to win, only because Im a Yorkshireman

  • Comment number 24.


    we will see, as always it will be a great game and perhaps i am biased. What we have in our favour is the romance of sport. Sean Long deserves one last piece of silverware, and its often the way that this is how it works.

    Plus, past silverware counts for nothing, I dont see Warrington in the Final!!

  • Comment number 25.

    I think the difference will be pace. Leeds have it in abundance, Saints - not so much.

    Although the Saints defence is pretty formidable, they'll have to be lucky all the time - whereas Leeds only need to get lucky once, to paraphrase a startlingly inappropriate phrase from angry Irishmen.

    I just feel that Leeds WILL score. They have too much firepower, and I'm not sure Saints will be able to match them try-for-try, which would allow their currently impressive defence to win them the game.

    I'm also pretty sure it's going to get a bit tasty out there - genuine bad blood seems to exist between these teams, and although I think Leeds will sneak it I'm convinced it'll be a tight game. That intensity and frustration could so easily spill over into one or two bouts of the old fisticuffs.

    But if so, I'd stay well away from Keith Senior, as has been noted previously! He has wrecking balls for fists. Anyone remember a callow youth called Senior at Sheffield when he dropped Barrie Jon Mather with a single nasty smack?

  • Comment number 26.

    Won't Leeds be missing the magic of Ali Lauitiiti on Saturday? He never played against the Dragons and has pulled out of the Pacific cup with Samoa for 'family commitments' so guessing he's gone back to Samoa cos of the tsunami etc. A real impact player, probably made the play of the season with the 'falling backwards offload' to Webb.

    This is a bit like Man Utd v Liverpool

    Leeds = United, just clinical and play the best footy
    St Helens = Liverpool as they just seem to stutter along with no flair

  • Comment number 27.

    The fact that Steve Ganson is from St Helens has been well documented for a long time, and he's never seemed to show any favouritism towards the Saints. If anything his heritage might make it more likely that he wouldn't in order to avoid charges of perceived bias.
    Also I think that for SeanPF to say that Saints "stutter along with no flair" is a gross misrepresentation designed to be provocative. They've been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the whole of the Super League era, which I think most would agree with!
    Saints have blooded a lot of youngsters in the side this year, and talents such as Eastmond (already outstanding) are yet to hit their peak. I wonder if the fact they have eight England Academy internationals in their first team squad means they're in good shape to dominate again in future years - but that Leeds might pip them this time - no matter how much I hope the Saints win!

  • Comment number 28.

    26, Sean PF

    Although I appreciate your compliment to the Rhino's, Please never compare any Leeds team to Manchester United in any way!

    Gutted I cant watch the game, im in korea at the moment (anyone know where i can watch the game) we better win because i have a class of nine 6 year olds who are now Rhino fans!

  • Comment number 29.

    From reading the comments on here i get the distinct impression some people are underestimating Saints attacking ability, please dont do this!

    Leeds were quite slow against Catalan around the play the ball, if so on Saturday Eastmond will be very dangerous from dummy half. Also in all our match ups this season Gidley has run down Burrows channel, Saints WILL get joy from this tactic.

    If any of our strike runners have an off day Saints can very easily win so i for one will not be taking anything for granted, cant wait for KO.

    Ps What odds a Sean Long drop goal to open the scoring?

  • Comment number 30.

    I am exiled in Cyprus (work, not beer and beach).I was born about 400 yards from Knowsley Road and have no chance of watching this great encounter,My mate with Sky is on a walkabout in Oz.The sports bars, will be wall to wall girls games (football)Great coverage though on Beeb radio.At least I am not in Korea, where dog is on the menu.Mind you seeing what is served up in the tourist joints here I am not so sure.Saints by a narrow margin.Come on the andrags!

  • Comment number 31.

    Look at these to line ups and i wil tell you to who look out for useing the *(star sign):
    Leeds 19-man squad: Webb*, Donald*, Smith*, Senior*, Hall*, McGuire, Burrow*, Leuluai*, Peacock*, Jones-Buchanan*, Lauitiiti*, Sinfield*, Diskin*, Bailey*, Kirke*, Ablett*, Burgess*, Worrall*, Watkins*.
    Some of these guys have not been plaing since nearly the whole senior sqaude went down with injuries or illnesses and had to be replaced by a whole youth team.
    St Helens 19-man squad: Wellens, Gardner, Gidley, Meli, Pryce*, Long*, Cunningham*, Graham, Gilmour, Wilkin*, Flannery, Roby, Hargreaves, Puletua, Clough, Eastmond, Fa'asavalu*, Dixon, Ashurst.
    Not much to talk about exept they need to stop doing mastakes and high tackle that will cost them dearley.

  • Comment number 32.

    I bet Paul is a Leeds Rhinos fan. But he look like a reporter who comes from London or Leeds.


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