Leeds Rhinos 22-30 St Helens
By PHIL CAPLAN
St Helens ensured it will be a three-way race with Leeds and York to decide the League Leaders’ Shield with a more convincing win than the final scoreline suggested.
The visitors returned to a breezy Headingley – a ground they have never lost at -for the first time since they won last year’s Women’s Grand Final to complete their historic treble and on the back of a reviving win over York last time out.
A stunning late try by Leeds’ Fran Goldthorp was all that divided the sides in a terrific clash last time they met in the league, on the back of a thrilling Challenge Cup final at Elland Road in which Saints triumphed.
The latest encounter didn’t quite live up to those heights, although there was much still to admire, not least Saints’ defensive solidity for most of the match that kept the Rhinos at arm’s length.
After a cagey opening, Leeds – with winger Sophie Nuttall moved to the second row – spread the ball through Georgia Roche, Zoe Hornby and Goldthorp, and chose to run on the last on the blind side, Keara Bennett freeing Hanna Butcher, who sent Tasha Gaines over wide out.
Twice Saints looked to release Amy Hardcastle, the second time on a last-tackle play, but the home defence held.
Jodie Cunningham split the Leeds line three times, on the final occasion turning the ball back inside for Rachel Woosey to cross near the posts, Bethany Stott goaling.
Leeds were susceptible to an inside pass, and Chantelle Crowl fed the excellent Paige Travis, and a sublime kick to the in-goal from Zoe Harris forced a drop-out. From it, Stott and Cunningham sent in Hardcastle, and Stott converted from wide out.
The visitors continued to dominate possession, Victoria Whitfield adding her usual impetus from the bench, backed up by impregnable defence.
The weight of pressure paid off as Woosey weaved infield and Stott found Cunningham, who again smuggled the pass away. Hardcastle sent Leah Burke in wide out on the half hour, although Stott hit a post with the touchline conversion attempt, her only miss.
Roche turned the tide with a wonderful 50-metre weaving run up the middle which elicited a set restart. Adaoha Akwiwu took advantage to burst through a gap, and Courtney Winfield-Hill tagged on the extras.
Saints must have felt they should have been further ahead than by six points at the break, but they extended their lead three minutes into the second half after Cunningham jolted the ball from Sophie Robinson in a fearsome hit, and Travis stepped her way over.
Twice Saints were penalised, but their defensive line held, and when they broke and received the same, they opted for a kick at goal, Stott making it 24-10 in the 54th minute.
Leeds couldn’t capitalise on a big hit from Akwiwu, as Saints again protected their line with some excellent defence, then Stott and Hardcastle combined to Emily Rudge over.
Late on Leeds showed their renowned resilience as Burke dropped Roche’s high kick, Winfield-Hill – who tended to hold on to the ball – went close and Butcher, solid throughout, ploughed over from acting half. WInfield-Hill converted
The home side backed that up, Roche with an exquisite chip over for Winfield-Hill, who stepped to the posts for a fine try, which she improved, but it was only a consolation.
WIGAN’S bottom of the table clash with HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS was only a minute old when recent new signing and France international Lauréane Biville crossed wide out for the Warriors.
Any fears that the floodgates might open after Wigan’s early score were soon put to bed as the Giants showed great spirit in defence.
But two tries in the final five minutes before the break helped Wigan lead 18-0 at the break.
First Carys Marsh stepped inside to go over from close range before her halfback partner Rebecca Greenfield spun away from here defender to crash over and extend the lead. Georgia Wilson added all three conversion.
Wigan returned after half-time eager to add to their total and soon found a way in when Anna Davies went in down the right, before Wilson raced round the defence to score.
She further extended their lead by successfully kicking both conversions before Caroline Collie pulled a try back for the Giants.
When Mary Coleman scored on the hour mark, any slim hopes of a Huddersfield comeback were snubbed out.
Holly Speakman rounded off the scoring, while Wilson finished with seven goals as Wigan won 42-4.
WARRINGTON WOLVES cut loose in the final 15 minutes to beat FEATHERSTONE ROVERS 44-12 at Victoria Park to retain their lead at the top of Group Two.
In a nip-and-tuck first half, the hosts took the lead on ten minutes through Michelle Davis, who also converted her own score.
However Charley Blackburn and an Annie Wallace conversion soon had Rovers back on level terms.
A try midway through the half from Dani Bound, converted by Lauren Roberts, put Warrington in at the break 12-6 ahead.
Tries were traded in the early stages of the second half through Lucy Eastwood for the Wolves and Olivia Grace for Featherstone to keep the difference at just six points.
At that stage it was still anyone’s game, but tries from Lucy Eastwood, Armani Sharrock, twice, Emily Baggaley and Georgia Westwood allowed the Wolves run away with it in the final quarter of an hour, winning 44-12.
BARROW RAIDERS continued their winning run with a resounding 78-0 victory over a struggling young CASTLEFORD TIGERS side.
Tries from Sam Norman, Vanessa Temple, twice, and Claire Hutchinson, plus two Jodie Litherland goals, allowed the Raiders to rack up a 20-0 lead in as many minutes.
It got no easier for the Tigers with a second Hutchinson try, and another from Norman helping put Barrow 30-0 up at the break.
Emily Stirzaker got the second half scoring underway, before Temple completed her hat-trick as Barrow ran away with the game in the second half.
Stirzaker then spent ten minutes in the sin bin while Tigers’ Steph Spence-Hirst was shown a red card for punching in the same incident.
The extra-player advantage did Barrow no harm as Molly Wernham crossed for her first Super League try to further increase the lead.
Temple added her fourth with just over ten minutes remaining, while further tries came from Demi Fisher, Jodie Litherland, who finished the day with ten conversions, Kelly Friend and Stirzaker to give Barrow another big win.
After a tight opening 25 minutes at Odsal Stadium, BRADFORD BULLS eventually pulled away to beat WAKEFIELD TRINITY 26-0 and go level on points with Featherstone in third.
With defences holding firm initially, Katie Whelan finally found a way through as she barged over the line for the first of three quickfire Bulls tries.
Within minutes Bradford had extended their lead further through a Bailey Alexander try and an Amy Boardman conversion (she landed three in all).
Again, only a few minutes passed before Alice Fisher broke through the defensive line to touch down and put the Bulls 14-0 up at the break.
It took until 15 minutes into the second half for the Bulls to score again, this time through Abi Pinder, who took three Wakefield defenders over the line with her and managed to get the ball down.
Despite their best efforts, Wakefield couldn’t find a way through and when Hermani Grace raced 60 metres to score with just two minutes left, Bradford sealed their fifth win of the season.
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