Leeds Rhinos 20-36 St Helens: Kevin Naiqama's treble helps League Leaders' Shield winners to victory
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 16/08/19 6:09am
Kevin Naiqama ran in a hat-trick of tries as a ruthless second-half display from St Helens earned them a 36-20 victory away to Leeds Rhinos in Thursday night’s Super League game.
The Rhinos had led through tries from Richie Myler and Ash Handley following Regan Grace's opener for Saints, but centre Naiqama's score with just under two minutes to go until the break saw the sides go in level at 10-10 at half-time.
But the League Leaders' Shield winners cut loose after the break, running in 26 points as Fiji international Naiqama completed his hat-trick and Zeb Taia added two of his own to make it three wins over Leeds in 2019.
Saints coach Justin Holbrook fielded just 10 members of his likely Challenge Cup final team, but there was little sign of Wembley nerves.
Leeds, who brought back Nathaniel Peteru for the suspended Brad Singleton, created the first scoring opportunity through the ever-dangerous Konrad Hurrell - only for his winger Handley to lose the ball just short of the line.
Saints made the most of the let-off, working the ball upfield from where exciting Welsh winger Grace got on the end of a neat tip-on by England centre Mark Percival to score the opening try.
Percival, on goal-kicking duties in the absence of Lachlan Coote and Danny Richardson, landed the conversion to make it 6-0, but the Rhinos struck back with two tries in eight minutes to go in front.
Scrum-half Myler fooled a Saints defence expecting a kick on the last tackle by running it and he stretched out of Jack Welsby's tackle to dot down, while Handley finished off some smart play by Hurrell shortly after having one try disallowed for a forward pass.
With Rhyse Martin adding one conversion, the Yorkshiremen were four points ahead, but Saints drew level three minutes before the break when young full-back Welsby combined with experienced half-backs Jonny Lomax and Theo Fages to get Naiqama charging over for his first try.
The game quickly went away from the home side after they made an awful start to the second half, displaying shambolic defending to allow Saints second-rower Taia to score two tries in four minutes.
The Cook Islands international seized on Leeds' failure to deal with a bouncing ball from Fages' kick for his first and supported a break by Grace for his second.
It was then Naiqama's turn to grab the spotlight, ripping through the Rhinos defence for two tries in four minutes to complete his hat-trick.
Percival took his goal tally to six from seven attempts to extend his side's lead to 36-10 before Leeds salvaged some pride with late tries from Handley - taking his total for the season to 21 - and centre Harry Newman.
Man of the match Kevin Naiqama was pleased with the way him and his team-mates were able to push on in the second half after going into the changing rooms level at the break.
St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook praised his players for adapting to different demands placed on them ahead of the upcoming Challenge Cup final.
Leeds interim head coach Richard Agar placed the Rhinos' second-half capitulation on some lapses in defence soon after the restart.