Super League: St Helens 16-41 Leeds Rhinos

By Steve MarshallBBC Sport
Ash Handley
Ash Handley scored on his home debut for Leeds against Wigan last month
First Utility Super League
St Helens (6) 16
Tries: Makinson, Turner 2 Goals: Burns 2
Leeds (28) 41
Tries: Handley 3, Hardaker, McGuire, Sutcliffe, Moon Goals: Sutcliffe 3, Sinfield 3 Drop-goal: Sinfield

Ash Handley scored a first-half hat-trick as Leeds moved six points clear at the top of Super League with victory over champions St Helens.

Handley's early 90-metre interception try gave Leeds the perfect start.

He added a second before Zak Hardaker and Danny McGuire went over, and completed his hat-trick on the hooter as Leeds led 28-6 at the break.

Jordan Turner scored twice to add to Tommy Makinson's try but Liam Sutcliffe and Joel Moon clinched it for Leeds.

The Rhinos' victory at Langtree Park was their 10th in 11 Super League games this season, while Saints have now lost three of their last four games.

They were behind in only the second minute, Handley intercepting a pass as Saints tried to move the ball wide and running in unopposed from 90 metres out to touch down under the posts.

Two tries in two minutes followed as Moon ran around Josh Jones and offloaded to Handley for his second, before Sutcliffe sent Hardaker over.

Carl Ablett's break set up McGuire for the Rhinos' fourth score and, after Makinson chased down his own loose kick from Jon Wilkin's grubber to get Saints on the board, Handley completed his hat-trick after catching Sutcliffe's cross-field kick in goal.

Saints sent on fit-again play-maker Luke Walsh for the second half and his influence was evident as he helped create both Turner's scores.

But, as the home side threatened a fightback, Sutcliffe danced past the St Helens defence to extend Leeds' lead, and Kevin Sinfield's drop-goal put them out of reach before Moon seized on Alex Walmsley's failed offload to cap a memorable Rhinos win.

Leeds coach Brian McDermott: "We'd like to be eight clear, we'd like to be 10 clear - we're not looking behind us, we're looking forward and trying to get as many points as we can.

"I think everyone would say there's a bit more improvement in us.

"Collectively we were very good. It was a great team performance. I didn't think we were in as much control of the game as the scoreline indicated at half-time.

"We still had some work to do in the second half. Saints pretty much threw everything at us. We found that second half unbelievably tough."

St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham: "Our marker play was extremely poor. We became victims of our own errors in defence.

"You can't give as good a side as Leeds so many chances around the ruck. They've got a great nine and a lot of good support players.

"Resilience and scramble is always very good from Saints but our ruck defence let us down massively.

"The frustrating thing is that when we came out in the second half after speaking about it at half-time we turned into a different side. If we had done that in the first half, I am sure it would have been a completely different game."

St Helens: Makinson, Fleming, Turner, Jones, Swift, Burns, Wilkin, Amor, Roby, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Flanagan, Thompson.

Replacements: Walsh, Masoe, Richards, Savelio.

Leeds: Hardaker, Watkins, Ablett, Moon, Handley, Sutcliffe, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, S. Ward, Delaney, Singleton.

Replacements: Burrow, Sinfield, Achurch, Yates.

Att: 12,640

Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL)