A place at Old Trafford, to take on minor premiers the Catalans Dragons, was on offer for the winners of tonight’s games between the defending Champions St Helens and the Leeds Rhinos.
Saints ended the regular season in second spot and were strong favourites to beat a Leeds side who had spent the season chasing a play-off place and who only qualified in sixth spot after a good run at the end of the season.
Few thought the Rhinos could hold back the Saints tide.
Leeds had the early running but it was St Helens who took the lead when Regan Grace took Lachlan Coote pass in space down the left and jinked back inside to stretch over and score. Coote was wide of the far post with his conversion attempt.
Coote was accurate with the boot on fourteen after a Leeds indiscretion to extend the lead to 6-0.
An awful high tackle from Tom Briscoe on Coote saw the Rhinos man yellow carded and the Saints full back drilling the penalty goal between the sticks from twenty metres for 8-0.
On twenty-three James Roby took an Alex Walmsley offload to run over the top of the Rhinos defence and slam the ball to the ground. Coote added the conversion as the Saints extended the lead.
On twenty-nine Simone Mata’utia was sin-binned for contact to the head on a falling Luke Briscoe, both sides down to twelve men.
Richie Myler grabbed the Rhinos a lifeline two minutes before the interval when he took an inside pass and rolled over the top of the Saints defender to ground under a pile of Saints defenders. Rhyme Martin failed with the conversion attempt, Leeds 4-14 behind at the interval.
A swinging arm from James Donaldson on forty-four cost him ten minutes in the bin.
The twelve men conceded another try on fifty when Mark Percival took the ball at first receiver and crashed the line to stretch an arm and ground on the line. Coote was again unable to convert but at 18-4 the Rhinos had a mountain to climb in the remaining twenty-nine minutes.
The game was over on fifty-nine when Kevin Naiqama went down the right wing and punished a poor Rhinos sliding defence as he went in from ten metres. Coote added the conversion for 24-4 with nineteen remaining.
Morgan Knowles joined the long list of sin-bin residents for a late tackle on Kruise Leeming on sixty-six. Within a minute the Rhinos made the extra man pay with Luke Briscoe crossing on the right corner. Martin missed the conversion from wide, for 8-24 with thirteen minutes remaining.
A walk in from Percival on seventy-two finally put to bed any hopes of a Rhinos fightback as the Saints kept the ball alive in broken play. Coote added the conversion for 30-8.
Grace got his second try with just over two minutes remaining as he exploited a big overlap down the right wing before coming inside and wrong-footing the lSt line of defence. Coote added the conversion to seal a 36-8 win.
From the first whistle there was little doubt that it would be Saints who were joining the Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford next weekend. The Rhinos made good on a poor start to the season but it was always likely to be the top two in the regular season who would grace the Grand Final.
St Helens: Coote (6G), Makinson, Naiqama (T), Percival (2T), Grace (2T), Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Roby (T), Lees, Mata’utia (SB on 30), Batchelor, Knowles (SB on 66). Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Paasi, Welsby.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler (T), Handley, Briscoe T (SB on 20), Newman, Briscoe L (T), Leeming, Lui, Oledzki, Dwyer, Prior, Donaldson (SB on 44), Martin, Tetevano. Subs: Hurrell, Thompson, Holroyd, Smith.
Half Time: 14-4.
Full Time: 36-8.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, (SB), 8-0, 12-0, 14-0, (SB), 14-4 : HT : (SB), 18-4, 22-4, 24-4, (SB), 24-8, 28-8, 30-8, 34-8, 36-8 : FT.