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Champions...Again!
Posted by southstander on October 05 2008 - 08:52:29

Champions

Mauled a fortnight ago at Knowsley Road, missing inspirational full back Brent Webb, and written off by the media and bookies alike, the Rhinos and their army of supporters travelled to Old Trafford more in hope than expectation.

Saints, humiliated in last years final, were confident of a big win to send their departing coach Daniel Anderson back home on a high. Saints fans expected silverware and their build up was full of talk of how many, rather than if.

On the night the Rhinos lads wanted it more, and we lifted the trophy for the second year running.

We bring you all of the action here......

24

Rhinos

v

Saints

16

Superleague XIII

Grand Final

4th October 2008

Champions...Again!

The worst possible news emerged from the Rhinos camp on the eve of the big match. The best full-back in the world, Brent Webb, was out of the Grand Final through injury and already saddled with the underdogs tag it was almost as though we'd already thrown the towel in. The doom-mongers were out in force, Saints fans were telling how royally we were about to get stuffed and the Saints players were giving interviews like they had already won the game. So as the heavens opened we descended on Old Trafford with hope in our hearts but realism about our chances in our heads. I'd tipped a Rhinos win in the preview, but that was before the 'Brent' news, and now all that was left was hope that the lucky scarf, parking space, pre-match routine, socks and pants would do their trick.

McClennan, in his first Grand Final, had named Lee Smith at full-back with Ryan Hall called into the squad on the wing. There was no other option but Saints would look to exploit any possible weakness between these two youngsters. Luke Burgess was the unlucky one to miss out with Ian Kirke retaining his spot. Saints only surprise was the omission of Cayless as Anderson stuck to the seventeen who had humiliated us a fortnight ago.

As the game kicked off it was obvious that it was going to be high intensity, despite the atrocious conditions and the incessant rain. Good opening sets from both sides gave little away but after five minutes Gilmour found a surprise gap in the Leeds defence and broke for the line. He interchanged passed with the supporting Wellens on the Leeds twenty before putting a pass out right to 'Man of Steel' Graham to cross for the opener. As Long converted it was the worst start that the Rhinos could have feared.

At this point a side has two options. Forget it and knuckle down, or roll over and die. Two weeks ago we chose the latter, but in the biggest game of the year we decided to forget it. Over the next twenty minutes we took control of the game, playing in the oppositions half, poised to strike when the opportunity arose.

On twenty-three a Sean Long 'grapple' tackle on Lee Smith allowed Sinfield to march us on forty metres. We used up three or four tackles testing the Saints defence before a brilliant offload from Jamie Jones-Buchanan found Lee Smith who slid over the line to score towards the left hand corner. Sinfield converted brilliantly from wide to level the scores.


Opener

You could see the belief flood back into the Rhinos players. We'd weathered the storm, Saints were just human after all, and we were definitely dominating them in the forwards.

With three minutes of the half remaining we hit the front. Saints were penalised for offside, again giving us ground, and once again we used our tackles well to probe and tire the Saints defence. On the last a wide ball to Senior was palmed to Hall on the wing but he had one defender to beat and the touchline to avoid. Rather than risk being bundled out he put in a grubber, rounded the defender and got his wrist on the ball to ground it. Klein suspected a foot in touch and went to the screen but the Video referee ruled in Leeds favour. Sinfield kicked the goal for a deserved 12-6 half time lead.

With the exception of a very close opening ten minutes we'd dominated the rest of the half. We could have been further in front, but were happy to settle for a six point lead. The Saints players looked stunned as they trudged off, almost as if they couldn't believe they were behind in a game which had already been given to them. And by 'eck we were enjoying it from the stand.

Daniel Anderson was shown on the half time big screen giving the Saints an animated half-time team talk and it looked to have done the trick on forty-two minutes when a cross-field kick was missed by Donald and collected by Gidley who dove over the line. Long kicked the goal and it was back all square, but once again Leeds heads didn't go down.


Brace
On fifty minutes Leeds made a mess of the last tackle plays and the ball found its way to Lee Smith well inside his own half. He made it to the Leeds forty before putting in a tremendous kick to find touch inside the Saints twenty. The video referee confirmed a rare 40-20 for the Rhinos from the most unexpected of sources.

From the scrum the ball was moved left and right before Sinfield put in a precision grubber kick which McGuire grounded superbly under the sticks making the Sinfield conversion a formality and re-establishing a six point Rhinos lead.

The lead was cut once more on the hour mark when Klein twice wiped the tackle count off after Leeds hands in the tackle, before the ball was moved wide right for Gardner to score in the corner as Donald scrambled to cover the overlap. Sean Long missed the crucial kick from the touchline and the Rhinos retained a two point advantage.

On sixty-three the Rhinos established daylight when a Sinfield kick to the corner bounced off the chest of a Saints defender and into the arms of McGuire who danced past three attempted tackles to score next to the posts. Sinfield converted for 24-16 and left Saints a mountain to climb in worsening conditions.

Despite Ashley Kleins best efforts to get Saints back into the game the Rhinos defence was resolute and we defended our lead for the remaining seventeen minutes without really threatening to extend it.

A couple of 'panic' mistakes from Saints in the dying minutes ran the clock down nicely and heralded another almighty Rhinos celebration as the final hooter sounded the start of the party.

Leeds were brilliant in defence, and inventive in attack, and for the second season running the Saints had no answer. When the hooter did sound this looked to have hurt them far more than last year. Their supporters had deserted them with five minutes to go, and by the time that the presentations were arranged they looked a forlorn and dejected group, contrasted to the manic celebrations happening amongst the Leeds lads.

It was the same script as last year and the same actors, just that this time it was directed by Bluey rather than Tony Smith. A loss in the first play-off, defeating Wigan in the final eliminator, seeing a Saints player pip a Rhino to the 'Man of Steel' award and then overcoming the underdogs tag to lift the biggest prize in the game. The last three weeks seem familiar because we've all lived them before, twelve months ago.

But this time it feels somehow sweeter. We were bigger underdogs and more written off by the media, but once again we are the Champions. Three times in five years, we truly are a Champion team!

Enjoy your brief break lads, play a big part in the World Cup, and come back next season bigger, better and stronger.

Champions 2008, ladies and gentlemen....the Leeds Rhinos.


Please vote for your Man-of-the-Match in the front page poll.


Match Facts

Rhinos
Saints
No.
Player
T
G
DG
No.
Player
T
G
DG
5
Smith
1
1
Wellens
2
Donald
2
Gardner
1
19
Ablett
3
Gidley
1
4
Senior
4
Talau
22
Hall
1
5
Meli
6
McGuire
2
6
Pryce
7
Burrow
7
Long
2
8
Leuleui
17
Graham
1
9
Diskin
9
Cunningham
10
Peacock
18
Hargreaves
12
Ellis
11
Gilmour
11
Jones-Buchanan
12
Wilkin
13
Sinfield
4
16
Flannery
17
Scruton
14
Roby
14
Lauiti'iti
21
Clough
16
Bailey
23
Fa'asavalu
18
Kirke
8
Fozzard

Kick Off:
18:00
Half-Time:
12-06
Referee:
Ashley Klein
Crowd:
68,810


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