Saints eye Cup hat-trick after holding off crocked Leeds

Leeds 16 St Helens 26

IT would have been hard enough for a full-strength Leeds to have stopped St Helens’ remorseless march to a third consecutive Carnegie Challenge Cup Final.

Shorn of one of the best fullbacks in the world, Kiwi Test star Brent Webb, even before kick-off at Huddersfield, and with both half-backs and one of their centres crocked in the first half, it was impossible.

St Helens, holders and favourites, never looked like losing once stand-off Leon Pryce danced over for their second touchdown five minutes before the break.

Byan Hargreaves

Final say: St Helens's Byan Hargreaves (hidden) celebrates his try with James Graham and Paul Wellens

Leeds threatened an astonishing salvage job with two tries within four minutes midway through the second half.

But Saints, in Daniel Anderson’s farewell season as coach, are heading back to Wembley, where they trounced Catalans Dragons last year, and will hope to do the same to the winners of today’s Hull and Wakefield clash at Doncaster.

Anderson said: 'We are as excited as our supporters about going back to Wembley. We have worked very hard to get there again.

'We lacked a bit of rhythm today and had a lot of opportunities to put the game to bed before we did. Leeds were very courageous. They lost a few players before the game and a few during it.’

The absence of Webb, who failed a fitness test on his hamstring, was a blow Leeds might have been able to overcome if scrum-half Rob Burrow had not been knocked cold attempting to tackle Lee Gilmour after 17 minutes.

Stand-off Danny McGuire limped for most of the game with a calf injury and Kiwi centre Clinton Toopi damaged knee ligaments just before Pryce crossed.

Earlier, the brilliance of Pryce’s half-back partner Sean Long had put Chris O’Flannery over for the opening try and Jon Wilkin’s converted try made it 18-2 seven minutes into the second half.

Leeds hit back with Ali Lauitiiti and Scott Donald tries, but they gifted two points to Long and prop Bryan Hargreaves plundered another Saints try.

Kylie Leuluai’s consolation did little to ease Leeds’ pain.

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