Super League 2017 touched down at the 'Totally Wicked Stadium' as St. Helens welcomed the Leeds Rhinos for the seasons opening fixture. Both sides were looking to get their campaign off to the best of starts with an opening weekend win, one would be disappointed in eighty minutes time.
Saints were without new signing Matty Smith, out with a nasty pre-season injury, and the Rhinos had lost Brett Ferres, Danny McGuire and Brett Delaney to friendly game knocks. But both sides gave debuts to new signings.
It had been a scrappy opening twenty minutes, despite the high tempo, with both sides gifting possession, giving away some clumsy early season penalties, and being thwarted by good defence when close to the opponents line.
It was the Rhinos who broke the deadlock with a passing move to the left which saw Joel Moon fend off the Saints defenders to ground before sliding into touch. Liam Sutcliffe pulled the conversion left of the uprights.
On twenty-four Saint Adam Swift knocked-on a Rob Burrow high kick under no pressure but Saints managed to defend their line and thwart the Rhinos.
Saints had had the upper hand in the first ten minutes but Leeds dominated the next twenty before Saints put the pressure back on the visitors leading up to the interval. There was nothing to choose between the sides as they went into the sheds.
From the start of the second half it was all Saints with the going close on two occasions before, with two and a half minutes on the clock, Theo Fages found a gap to go between two Leeds defenders to ground from five metres out. Mark Percival kicked the conversion and edged his side 6-4 ahead.
On forty-seven it looked like Liam Sutcliffe was over for the Rhinos after a Kallum Watkins break but a superb Tommy Makinson tackle dragged the Rhinos half-back into touch just short of the try line.
Both sides had multiple chances over the next half-hour but it was two solid defences who bossed the game and frustrated repeated attacks.
When Luke Thompson lost the ball on the half-way line the Rhinos looked to snatch the points but despite the Rhinos throwing the ball around with abandon the Saints defence didn't panic and held firm.
Saints held on through the closing minutes for a hard fought two point opening round victory.
It was a colossal battle of two strong defences with just a conversion to choose between the two sides. If this is what Super League 2017 is going to serve up on a weekly basis, we are in for a treat.
Saints: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival (G), Swift, Fages (T), Richardson, Amor, Lee, Douglas, Greenwood, Peyroux, Wilkin. Subs: Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Knowles.
Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon (T), Hall, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Garbutt, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Singleton. Subs: Ward, Keinhorst, Mullally, Baldwinson.
Referee: Phil Bentham.