|Round 15 Results|
|Salford 7 Bradford 28|
|Warrington 16 Hull FC 26|
|Widnes 22 Huddersfield 36|
|Catalans 39 Castleford 30|
|London 6 Wigan 64|
|Hull KR 44 Wakefield 18|
|Leeds 22 St. Helens 30|
|Round 16 Fixtures|
|ALL AT ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER|
|Saturday 25th May - 12pm (TV)|
|Catalans v London|
|Saturday 25th May - 2.15pm (TV)|
|Castleford v Wakefield|
|Saturday 25th May - 4.30pm (TV)|
|Hull FC v Hull KR|
|Saturday 25th May - 6.45pm (TV)|
|St. Helens v Warrington|
|Sunday 26th May - 3pm (TV)|
|Salford v Widnes|
|Sunday 26th May - 5.15pm (TV)|
|Bradford v Huddersfield|
|Sunday 26th May - 7.30pm (TV)|
|Leeds v Wigan|
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|Day of the Match - A Leeds|
|Barring a mathematical miracle, Saints four year long grip on the League Leader’s Shield is over following a narrow defeat at Headingley. The team belied their recent form to put on our of their best shows for some time before finally succumbing to a home side that niggled, kicked and punched it’s way to victory in the usual fashion. However, few Saints fans came out of this one looking despondent as we came away with the belief that the team may just be about to peak at the right time for a change and, one thing is for sure, whereas a few days ago most of us would have written off our chances of Grand Final glory, we are not doing so now. We can win this and nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing the smile wiped off the faces of the dirtiest team in Super League and their irksome spectators.|
There was a fear at one point that we wouldn’t even get to the game as the motorway signs flashed what seemed to be Armageddon warnings about “severe delays” and, as such, I was texting Div and his party to tell them to go an alternative route. In the end, the traffic was hardly any worse than the traditional Friday night crawl and we were parked up before 7pm. Like a dog let off the leash or a bull in the proverbial china shop, Funtime Frankie Lebeouf was back in town and how. With strict instructions from her indoors not to get paralytic, he seemingly failed before we had even reached kick off and the sight of him being led by the side of a cricket pitch by St. Bert, reminded me of the hilarious Belarussian referee being led from the field after getting inebriated before a game, a couple of years ago. If he’d have leaned anymore sideways he’d have been upside down. God only knows what would have happened if his plan to scale the fence, to avoid paying, had come to fruition.
Saints were welcoming back Fas and Bryn to the forwards, with Kyle Eastmond lining, up somewhere between centre and stand off and, for the first time in weeks, we had more or less our strongest line up out, if you exclude the missing, presumed dead, Jason Cayless. There was a big following to give the boys a great welcome but most of us were non-plussed to see us turn out in that wretched green kit again. Why do we insist on wearing this aberration at every given opportunity? What is more, we are regularly turning out in it when it presents much more of a clash with the home kit than our red and white one would? Certainly, quite a few people were complaining about not being able to distinguish what was what at the far end with both kits just merging into a dark mess. Does anyone ever utilise their brains over issues like this?
Saints started like a team re-born, certainly one much different from the one that turned in that disgraceful performance against Huddersfield’s kids two weeks ago and we stormed into an early 6-0 lead as James Graham made a superb break to put Gilly in for a great try. There were a few heart attacks in the crowd as Graham went down seemingly injured with Dirty Leeds, not for the last time, trying to nobble him again and they wondered why he was a bit miffed at the end. One thing is for sure, if we lose Graham then our season is over and Leeds knew just that. I wouldn’t have put it past Brian McClennan to sacrifice one of his lesser players for the play-offs to do just that.
In typical fashion though, the tide turned with the lack of intelligent decision making that is becoming a trademark as we failed to kick ourselves two scores in front with a simple penalty, ran it, lost it and within seconds, Leeds were in out right through Ablett. Saints had defended magnificently and had looked to have repelled another attack when Meli looked set to claim an easy kick only for Longy to stupidly push a home player out of the way and concede a needless penalty on the last. The ball was moved to the left and with an outrageous forward pass, Ryan Hall was in to make it 12-6 with the conversion. Hats off to beleaguered referee Phil Bentham too, who not only missed the forward pass but totally lost control of proceedings. Never mind, he might have had a stinker this week but who will ever forget his Man of the Match performance as video referee when he led his home town team, Warrington, to victory at Wembley last week?
The second half saw Saints continue to do us proud and by now I was quite clearly stating that no matter what happened, we had shown enough to convince me that we could end the Leeds curse at Old Trafford and I still believe that. Saints were back in the game when, a great interchange down the right saw Kyle slip Chris Flannery over and it was 12-10 with Kyle missing a kick he should really have banged over. By now, the game was being played almost exclusively in our own half and the superb defence finally cracked as Ryan Hall went in for his brace but with Sinfield missing the kick, we were still within one score. Not that a draw would have done anything for us with Leeds facing up to Salford next week. Leon Pryce, twice, passed it when a run to the line was on and has his confidence gone or what?
All week I had been saying how I wanted us to finish second, as I believe the pressure then being off us gives us a better chance of lifting the Championship but all these thoughts had gone by now. I was caught up in the moment and I was buggering the Play-Offs, I just wanted us to win the Shield and, more importantly, smash Leeds into the ground en-route to a thrilling last gasp win. Alas, it was not to be but what followed only served to heighten the hatred I am starting to feel for our greatest on-field rivals. Believe me, our rivalry with the Bradford Bulls, a few years ago, has nothing on this one.
Leeds added a penalty to make the game safe and the South Stand partied away, after all it was the second time they had finished top of the table in 37 years, so it was all very nice but by now tempers were beginning to fray on the pitch and two sets of players who thoroughly hate each other were at it again. Firstly, Lee Smith whacked Gilly with a shocking high tackle and you know what happens when Gilly cops a cheap one. It all goes off, there is a huge brawl and everyone’s in a strop for the next ten minutes. After that, Keith Senior, a man who has got a face that not only his mother couldn’t love but one even his bloody dog couldn’t love, then starts whacking Wilkin in the face with gay abandon before receiving a yellow card and it’s about time these things got the red cards they deserve.
At the end of the game, the Saints players were clearly riled and the players hurried over to the away end where we gave the boys the tremendous ovation we deserved. James Graham refused to shake hands with any of their players and that is what it has come to. Pure hatred between fellow professionals and it’s not nice to see. Leeds are a damned good side who play a great brand of football, so why do they feel the need to win games by resorting to cheap shots, chicken wing tackles, strong arm tactics and blatant out and out dirty play? Wasn’t the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag given to Leeds United FC in the 1970s? Well it was very prophetic, that’s all I can say.
The mood was quite good on the way home as it dawned on us that we could just have been given the perfect firing up they need to win the Play-Offs although, St. Bert obviously thought the league was over now and simply refused to acknowledge that coaches tailor their team’s selections and performances to suit what really constitutes the trophy and games may be lost that would otherwise have been won, in the regular season, knowing that first past the post doesn’t give you the trophy.
The evening petered out with a quite pint with Dave Howarth in the Java and talk was of how we would just love to spank Leeds’ bottoms at Old Trafford come October and, you know what, last year I had a stong feeling it was all going to go belly up and nobody believed me. This year, I’ve just got a good feeling in my bones. Read into that what you will.
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Saturday 25th May 2013, 6.45pm
at Etihad Stadium
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|Saints Career Stats|