TO say Saints have had better weeks would be the understatement of the year.

Thursday night's 24-22 defeat at depleted Leeds, after losing linchpin Matty Smith with a torn eyelid, came hot on the heels of failing to get Ben Barba’s suspension overturned.

And all three have contributed to taking a large pin to the bubble of belief that had been optimistically building again after last week’s dramatic win over Salford.

A look at the league table underlined that Saints needed to win this game more than their opponents.

That they did not now leaves them relying on the teams above them suffering a cataclysmic downturn in form to have any chance of making the top four.

The mathematics do not look good.

Frustratingly it was another day, and another game where Saints looked the gift horse in the mouth and sent it back to its owner’s stable.

Bad luck played its part, and losing last week’s match winner and organiser Smith left Saints struggling, particularly with their last tackle plays.

But having coped with that, particularly once Theo Fages grew into the role of being lead half, they suffered a hammer blow with the sin-binning of Jon Wilkin.

Saints were clinging to a 16-12 lead at that point, but when Mitch Garbutt recoiled in agony, the referee’s second look saw him dispatch the Saints skipper to the cooler.

It looked harsh, but it was certainly punishing for Saints and while he was off they piled on the pressure until eventually Ryan Morgan spilled Jordan Lilley’s high ball to present Kallum Watkins with a gift.

Impressive stand off Joel Moon created another close range one for Ryan Hall, but despite Alex Walmsley grabbing one back two minutes from time this week there was to be no great escape.

On the face of it a narrow loss at Leeds, given the adversity they faced, is no disgrace but Rhinos had their own catalogue of misfortune to contend with given they were missing seven players through injury and suspension.

They were there for the taking.

But credit to 17-year-old full back Jack Walker who stepped into Ash Golding’s shoes with a faultless display, but maybe Saints needed to stop feeding him the high balls on the last when it was clear they were not going to crack him.

The lack of ruthlessness and variety on the last tackle plays was probably down to Smith being off the field for the last 74 minutes.

Saints, nevertheless, still created opportunities – but they paid a big price for not having bodies up in support on the occasions when they made the half breaks.

Having been under the cosh for much of the early period, on the wrong end of the penalty count and being forced to drop out twice, Saints remarkably silenced the South Stand when substitute Dominique Peyroux bust a hole on the right edge, brushing off Moon and Carl Ablett, before sending Adam Swift racing over for the first try on 15 minutes.

Crucially, with Mark Percival suspended, Tommy Makinson missed the goal and that would prove costly at the end of the day.

Alas, Saints conceded a soft try three minutes later when Moon left Kyle Amor clutching at shadows before riding Peyroux's tackle to level matters.

Moon, who was pulling the Leeds strings from six, created another chance from deep but Liam Sutcliffe appeared to pull a hamstring, stopping in his tracks before throwing a loose pass.

Saints had chances, and Morgan and James Roby both went close – with full back Walker’s ankle tap foiling the speedy number nine with no support player in sight.

Leeds took a lead into the break when Lilley kicked a penalty, and frustratingly they stretched that lead within three minutes of the second half.

It was doubly frustrating given the preceding passage of play should have seen Saints either scoring or forcing a repeat set.

Unfortunately, Wilkin’s kick at the end of a fine attacking set went straight into the hands of a Leeds man with Walker breaking out, racing upfield to set up the platform for Moon and Lilley to send Stevie Ward over.

Trailing 12-4 Saints showed their resilience to hit back with two tries in a defiant seven-minute spell.

A scruffy one from Roby's high kick, saw Ash Handley drop the ball under pressure from Peyroux, who was later on hand to pick up and send Makinson over as the Leeds defence watched.

And then an energetic Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook hit the line and turned in the tackle to a slip the ball out of the tackle for Roby to sniff out the try line.

Makinson’s conversions gave Saints an insecure four-point cushion, but the game then turned again with Wilkin’s yellow card.

There had been some bright spots in the game - Luke Thmpson gave aggression and energy in his start at prop, Fages showed nice touches under pressure and Roby proved once again what a top-notch player he still is.

But there reward was a kick in the teeth from this result.

It was a bitterly frustrating end, particularly given its significance on the league table – with the narrow loss joining the Widnes, Huddersfield, twice, and Wakefield games as ones that got away.

Leeds: Walker; Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall; Moon, Lilley; Galloway, Parcell, Singleton, Ablett, Ward, Cuthbertson. Subs: Garbutt, Handley. Mullally, Ormondroyd, Saints: Lomax; Swift, Makinson, Morgan, Grace; Fages, Smith; Thompson, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, Knowles. Subs: Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Peyroux.