Keiron Cunningham praised St Helens' resilience
St Helens did that last night, narrowly seeing off the dogged challenge of old adversaries Leeds to claim victory in the opening match of the new Super League season.
Master craftsman Rob Burrow was making his 500th appearance for Leeds and there was another notable milestone when Joel Moon put the Rhinos ahead in the 20th minute.
It was the Australian centre’s 50th touchdown in Leeds colours and gave them a slender 4-0 interval lead on a bitterly cold night when Danny McGuire, Brett Ferres and Brett Delaney were all missing through injury.
Keiron Cunningham’s Saints gradually warmed to their task and, buoyed by the introduction of hooker James Roby off the bench, they were level within three minutes of the restart when French stand-off Theo Fages darted through a gap to score.
England centre Mark Percival added the conversion to make it 6-4 and give St Helens an advantage they did not surrender.
St Helens held on to beat Leeds 6-4
Head coach Cunningham said: “I was a little disappointed with certain aspects of the first half but the resilience we showed was second to none.
“The unity of this team is clear to see and I thought we deserved the result because to a man they were outstanding.”
Midway through the first half, the visitors forged ahead.
Collecting possession 20 metres out, Leeds debutant hooker Matt Parcell found Burrow to his left and the diminutive playmaker combined with Carl Ablett to find Moon.
The Australian showed impressive strength to fend off Saints centre Ryan Morgan and cross the line in the left corner for a try Burrow failed to convert.
Genuine tryscoring chances remained few but, as the interval approached, St Helens winger Tommy Makinson – shifted to full-back when Jonny Lomax went off with concussion – was denied by some superb defending by young Leeds full-back Ashton Golding.
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Shortly after the restart and this time it was Saints prop Alex Walmsley being denied from close range.
Yet the hosts, who handed a debut to 20-year-old scrum-half Danny Richardson, continued to probe and Fages collected possession, dropped his shoulder, and burst through the Leeds defence to score the crucial try.
Leeds threatened when Kallum Watkins found Liam Sutcliffe inside the right channel, but Makinson made an outstanding cover tackle to deny him.
Crucially, Rhinos boss Brian McDermott could not fault the desire of his team, embodied by rookie Golding at the back.
He said: “Ashton was outstanding tonight and showed everything you want from a full-back with some try-saving tackles.”