Super League: St Helens beat Leeds Rhinos 36-20 to warm-up for Challenge Cup
|Betfred Super League|
|Leeds (10) 20|
|Tries: Myler, Handley 2, Newman Goals: Martin 2|
|St Helens (10) 36|
|Tries: Grace, Naiqama 3, Taia 2 Goals: Percival 6|
St Helens warmed up for next weekend's Wembley Challenge Cup final by blowing Leeds Rhinos away in the second half for a convincing 36-20 win.
It was all square at half-time with two tries apiece before a vociferous crowd, with Leeds causing Saints problems.
League leaders St Helens took control after the break, scoring four tries to race into a 36-10 lead.
Scores from Ash Handley and Harry Newman gave Leeds hope late on but they are not quite safe yet in Super League.
While Saints are well clear at the top - now boasting a huge 16-point margin - Leeds are just four points above bottom side London with four games for their rivals to go.
Only a significantly positive points difference gives them comfort at this stage, with a clutch of sides just two points below them in the battle against the drop.
Richard Agar's Leeds side turned in an impressive first 40 minutes, but the way they were blitzed by the Saints after the break will have been a concern, despite the calibre of opposition.
Ash Handley could have had four tries but his first after a slick move to the left only came after Richie Myler skipped through the Saints defence to cancel out a scrappy opening try, well finished by Regan Grace after a bobbling ball was recycled.
However, Kevin Naiqama finished off a high-tempo, high-quality at-the-line score to the right edge just before the break to send the teams in level, and they stepped up again in the second half.
Back-rower Zeb Taia was first to a teasing kick into the Leeds in-goal and was allowed to bobble about invitingly, and then went back-to-back for a rapid-fire second when he kicked ahead and took a pass from Grace to score.
Naiqama took advantage of gaps on the right to follow suit just after the hour and pick up his hat-trick, and not even two nicely worked scores in a late Leeds revival could address the scoreline.
Leeds head coach Richard Agar:
"They are way and above the best team in the comp. At the moment they're playing at a different speed to everyone else. Some of their skills are great. Their back five are a real handful and a couple of big young kids in the middle ensure they don't miss a beat.
"For us, the biggest concern is the manner of our defence because I think we've shown over a number of weeks that we've got a bit more in us than that.
"I thought we caused them some problems in the first half but the second half was as disappointing a period as I've experienced with this team. Ut was poor and it lets us know where we're at."
St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook:
"It's really tough. They all deserve to play [in next week's Challenge Cup final] on the back of the last few weeks.
"We've given guys not just opportunities but made them play longer minutes than they normally would and they've all delivered.
"We've put ourselves in a great spot. Everybody is fresh, we'll have to see if we can play 20 players next week."
Leeds: Walker; L. Briscoe, Hurrell, Newman, Handley; Lui, Myler; Lunt, Cuthbertson, Seumanufagai, Ferres, Martin, Merrin.
Replacements: Dwyer, Donaldson, Peteru, Sutcliffe.
St Helens: Welsby; Costello, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Fages, Lomax; Smith, Thompson, Lees, Peyroux, Z. Taia, Bentley.
Replacements: Amor, Ashworth, Batchelor, Eaves.
Referee: Chris Kendall (RFL)