SAINTS’ Wembley hopes have been dashed for another year after they fell to a disappointing 32-12 defeat at Leeds.
They were always second best in a scrappy fifth round Challenge Cup tie at Headingley, even if it did appear that the Rhinos got the rub of the green for their two first half tries.
However, Saints were surprisingly lacklustre – there were again the now too common loose carries and dropped balls and a reversion to a style of one-man rugby did nothing to make a dent in the Leeds defensive armour.
Saints found the Rhinos defence difficult to penetrate and as such could never really create a platform to move it to the wings. Any crumbs that were created were soon snuffed out with Jonny Lomax getting nailed with his link up play.
And Saints were further hindered by the number of occasions that Luke Walsh lost his footing when trying to launch an attack.
By the time Saints really found their feet, so to speak, they were already chasing a clock that was going too quick. Once again they had left themselves too much to do.
With Jamie Peacock and Carl Ablett to the fore early on Leeds’ big men effectively won the midfield battle, but Saints hung in there for the best part of the first half.
Both Rhinos first half tries came from debateable calls from referee Richard Silverwod which handed the Rhinos prime attacking plays that they exploited ruthlessly.
The first was after Kevin Sinfield had drilled the ball downfield with the referee ruling the ball had made contact with the charger Josh Jones before going dead.
The play from the drop out saw Leeds press the line with Zak Hardaker holding off Jonny Lomax and Mark Percival to touch down. Sinfield goaled.
Saints responded when the fit again centre Mark Percival was put through a hole on the left, he dashed through, drew the last man before putting Adam Swift in at the corner, riding Watkins’ tackle well to ground it.
Walsh kicked it off the touchline to level matters, but Leeds then began to dominate territory.
On 18 minutes the Rhinos claimed another try when Danny McGuire picked the ball up from the injured Walsh loses ball but the video ref ruled no try.
Saints were having to do a lot of defending, with Leeds – with Peacock again immense and making inroads and Rob Burrow being a thorough nuisance. As a result Leeds forced more drop outs and generally got the rub of the green.
Saints looked like they had withstood that until five minutes from time Tommy Makinson pushed the ball out of tackle, it hit a Leeds leg and Swift picked up. Alas, the referee gave a scrum to Leeds, and from there the Rhinos threw it about. Out it went to Ryan Hall, who cut inside, offloaded to Hardaker, who brushed off Josh Jones en route to the try line. Sinfield goaled to give Leeds a six point advantage at the break.
An early second half penalty to Leeds for a push was converted by Sinfield to make it 14-6 and Saints were again chasing the game and desperate to get some momentum.
And so when Sinfield and McGuire combined to send Ablett tearing through with Burrow in support Saints were again back-pedalling. That was halted, but when the ball came back to the left Joel Moon touched down, with Sinfield’s kick putting Leeds seemingly out of sight at 20-6.
But from Saints first two penalties of the game, they had to get something and Walsh and Lomax’s simple passing game sent Jones powering through. Walsh’s goal made it 20-12 with 26 minutes to play and there was a chance Saints could threaten.
However, they were hindered when Kyle Amor left the field with a leg injury after a long stoppage.
Saints enjoyed best spell of the game, but could not engineer good attacking opportunities nor could they build consistent pressure.
And so a 40/20 from Walsh was spoiled when Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook could not hold the ball when tugged at by Peacock.
And Saints got another bite when Leeds were penalised for crossing, but this time Mose Masoe lost it. From there Leeds countered and went the length of the field with McGuire finishing off..
The game had gone by the time Peacock drove through for a try by the posts, Sinfield ending with a perfect record with the boot.