A week after the Catalans Dragons came from behind to secure victory at Emerald Headingley, the Leeds Rhinos travelled to the south of France in a re-arranged round ten fixture on the eve of tomorrow’s Challenge Cup Final.
Neither side would alter their league position with either a loss or a victory but a win for the Dragons would mover them further clear of tomorrow’s cup finalists, St Helens, while a win for the Rhinos would edge them closer to sixth placed Hull KR on win percentage and increase their margin ahead of the other Wembley bound side, the Castleford Tigers.
The Dragons were massive favourites with the bookies for the win with the Rhinos being given a fourteen-point start on the handicap coupon.
The league leaders set their stall out early on, forcing a Leeds dropout as early as the first minute but it took eight minutes for them to take a two point lead with an Arthur Mourgue penalty goal after the referee judged that Leeds had committed a tip tackle.
Konrad Hurrell thwarted Fouad Yaha on eleven, dragging him into touch as the line beckoned. The Rhinos then used their tackles to work their way down the other end of the field with Richie Myler feeding Tom Briscoe to cross unopposed in the left corner. Luke Gale drilled his touchline conversion between the uprights to give the Rhinos a 6-2 lead.
Tom Briscoe was the hero again, this time in defence, when on twenty-one when he tackled Tom Davies into touch when the winger looked like he was certain to score.
On twenty-eight Josh Drinkwater looked to have got the Dragons back on level terms after capitalising on a Luke Briscoe error but the ball slipped from his grasp in the act of scoring and the video referee ruled out the try.
Leeds forced a drop-out on thirty after pinning Samisoni Langi in goal and on the last tackle a Cameron Smith grubber was fumbled by Davies as he tried to knock it dead and collected by Tom Briscoe for his second of the evening. Gale again added the conversion from the touchline to give the Rhinos a 12-2 lead.
Three minutes from the interval the Rhinos were in again after some sensational passing saw the ball end up in the hands of Kruise Leeming, thanks to a deft Smith flick pass, to score by the left upright. Gale added the conversion and the Rhinos took an 18-2 lead into the sheds.
The Dragons finally registered a try on forty-four when Sam Kasiano charged the line and stretched to score. Mourgue added the conversion to narrow the Rhinos lead to ten points, the same margin that they led by a week ago.
Three minutes later and the Dragons were in again, Mourgue taking a Sam Tomkins pass before rebounding off the left postpad and stretching to ground under great pressure from the Rhinos defence. Mourgue converted his own try and the Rhinos lead was down to just four points.
The Rhinos were now holding on and trying to stop the Catalans onslaught.
On fifty-three Matt Whitley hit a gap after taking a Josh Drinkwater pass to evade the Rhinos tackler and level the scores. All the good work in the first half from the Rhinos had been brushed aside in ten-minute devastating spell from the home side. Mourgue added the conversion for 20-18 to the Dragons.
It was basketball stuff from the Dragons who again looked a different side in the second half. This time the ball was moved wide right after a Yaha break and eventually into the hands of Davies from Mike McMeeken to score in the corner. Mourgue was unable to add the conversion but after an hour’s play the Dragons were 24-18 ahead.
Since the interval it had been one-way traffic.
On sixty-five Yaha had a try ruled out by the video referee but on seventy-two Sam Tomkins slotted over a drop goal to extend the lead to seven points.
The final scoring action saw Rhinos indiscipline gifted the Dragons a simple penalty, and Mourgue kicked the two for 27-18.
For the second week running the league leaders allowed the Rhinos to sprint into a big half-time lead and then came out in the second half with a superb performance to overhaul the margin and take the win. Both games were full of excitement and incident but it was the Dragons who showed their true class, in keeping their opponents out in the second half, to maintain their position at the top of the table.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins S (DG), Davies (T), Langi, Whare, Yaha, Mourgue (T, 5G), Drinkwater, Dudson, Da Costa, Goudemand, Whitley (T), McMeeken, Garcia. Subs: Seguier, Jullien, Dezaria, Kasiano (T).
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Briscoe L, Newman, Hurrell, Briscoe T (2T), Sutcliffe L, Gale (3G), Holroyd, Leeming (T), Prior, Mellor, Walters, Smith. Subs: Dwyer, McLelland, Donaldson, O’Connor.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-4, 2-6, 2-10, 2-12, 2-16, 2-18: HT : 6-18, 8-18, 12-18, 14-18, 18-18, 20-18, 24-18, 25-18, 27-18 : FT.