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Saints still searching for first home win after losing 12-20 to Leeds
SAINTS are still looking for their first home win of the season after being ground down by Leeds.
Although the scores finished three tries apiece, Leeds had seized control midway through the half with Kevin Sinfield’s goalkicking ensuring that the visitors kept well in front.
Two late Francis Meli tries, courtesy of passes from outstanding 18-year-old debutant centre Mark Percival, added some respectability to the scoreline.
But the damage had already been done. Saints played well in odd flashes, but they were too easily smothered by a Leeds side that muscled up well to chalk up their first win on St Helens since 2008.
At times Saints found it impossible to break out of their own half – with the game punctuated by the odd flash of off the cuff rugby, but ultimately yielding nothing.
And to compound their misery, Gary Wheeler was carried off injured just before the hour mark.
Saints had already had to re-organise their team when Alex Walmsley, who was due to start at prop, pulled up and was replaced by Anthony Walker.
Saints got off to a bad start when Jordan Turner’s kick off went out on the full. And from there Leeds pressed to score first through a Kevin Sinfield penalty after two minutes.
Saints countered when Jonny Lomax, continuing at full back, took a fine pass from Jon Wilkin to force his way between two defenders to touch down on nine minutes.
Gary Wheeler missed the conversion allowing Leeds to level with another Sinfield penalty on 24 minutes.
At this stage Saints were finding it hard to break out of their half, such was the keenness of the Leeds defence.
Rhinos took the lead when Sinfield slipped a tackle in the middle, offloaded to the supporting Danny McGuire who in turn sent Ryan Hall in at the corner.
It stayed 8-4 at the break.
Leeds prop Ian Kirke looked like he had stretched that lead but he bounced the ball over the line.
The game was still there to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and a sublime flick pass from Tony Puletua to Lomax showed a brief glimpse of what Saints could do.
When Leeds got their next score, it more or less broke Saints. A high Sinfield kick to the corner was taken by Hall, unopposed, who tossed the ball back inside to Kylie Leuluai to ground it on 61 minutes.
Leeds were on a roll and Rob Burrow skipped out of a few tackles, Joel Moon slipped through to put Hall in at the corner, which Sinfield goaled to give Leeds an unassailable 20-4 lead with 17 minutes to play.
That was game over, but Saints did not throw the towel in and with five minutes to go young Widnesian Percival, who has injected some much needed pace into the attack, pierced the left flank to put Meli over.
And then two minutes from time another great piece of centre play from Percival, who combined with Manu to send Meli in for his second.
Alas Turner missed both goal attempts, leaving Saints with a mission impossible for the last minute.
Saints: Lomax; Gardner, Turner, Percival, Meli; Wheeler, Wilkin; Laffranchi, Roby, Walker,Soliola, Manu, Puletua. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Clough, Jones, Greenwood.
Leeds: Watkins; Vickery, Ablett, Moon, Hall; McGuire, Sinfield; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Ward, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan. Subs: McShane, Kirke, Clarkson, Moore.
Ref: P. Bentham