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'Almost hit by a cyclone' - St Helens boss Paul Wellens gives verdict after Leeds Rhinos win

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens praised his patched-up side for withstanding a first-half “cyclone” and emerging with a crucial 18-8 Betfred Super League win over Leeds at Headingley.

Saints were pinned back by an impressive start from the hosts but clawed back to within two points at the interval, before two tries in three minutes from Jon Bennison and Moses Mbye swung the game in their favour.

Coming on the heels of last week’s shock home loss to Salford, it was an especially strong response from Wellens’ men, who were forced into a last-minute reshuffle when Tommy Makinson pulled up with a hamstring injury in the warm-up.

Wellens said: “We were almost hit by a cyclone, it was a combination of things – they started the game with much more intent than we did, and the athleticism of some of their players can really hurt you.

“On the flip side, we need to be better from our intent and how we start the game, because we very quickly lost control and it took us some time to win it back.

“I thought as a collective our intent around our defensive work at the start wasn’t where it needed to be, but what was there was a willingness to scramble and work hard for each other.”

Makinson’s late withdrawal forced a series of changes, with Waqa Blake replacing him on the wing, Matt Whitley moving to centre and Joe Batchelor moving off the bench to take up a place in the second row.

Wellens, who admitted Makinson is already a doubt for next week’s repeat fixture in the Challenge Cup, added: “Tommy pulled up tight with his hamstring and when it’s like that you’re foolish to take a risk.

“We had to have a last-minute reshuffle and it’s a credit to the playing group that they can handle that disruption and still go out and get a result.”

Leeds head coach Rohan Smith expressed pride in his side’s performance but admitted they ultimately paid the price for failing to make the most of their early dominance.

“We were patient in the first half and we defended really well and had a lot of front-foot opportunities, and we probably didn’t capitalise on it points-wise,” said Smith.

“Against quality teams you’ve sometimes got to go the distance to get the points, and we weren’t quite able to do that today, but I really liked the effort and the intent.”

Leeds, looking to build on a gutsy start to the new campaign, were still in with a chance until Saints hit back either side of the hour mark, and Smith conceded that his side will have to cut out some costly errors if they are to regain their early-season momentum.

“It was a pretty solid showing of what we want to be, and in the second half there were just a couple of moments that let us down,” he added.

“I’m not frustrated by our performance, it was back-to-back clangers that made the difference in the game, but we’ve tried to beat the other team and we’ve played hard and with intent.”

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