Laurent Frayssinous described it as the finest moment of his coaching career after guiding Catalan Dragons to a first win at Headingley in 10 attempts.
A last-minute try from Sam Williams, who pounced on a handling error by Leeds winger Tom Briscoe, enabled the French club to snatch a 24-20 victory over the Rhinos in the second elimination play-off and secure a place in the last six of the Super League play-offs.
“Tonight we made history by becoming the first Catalan team to win at Leeds,” said Frayssinous. “In the context of the play-offs, against a team that has so much experience, to win that type of game it is pretty special.
“We needed luck at the end when Tom Briscoe dropped the ball and Sam picked it up to score, but the performance, especially defensively, has been awesome and the attitude of the boys was good.
“Sam controlled the team pretty good and I have to give a big rap to Ian Henderson, who played 80 minutes. His desire to win and willingness to help his team-mates stick to the game plan is the type of attitude we want to keep on having.”
The Dragons’ reward is a trip to Huddersfield in next Friday’s preliminary semi-final, with the Giants hoping to bounce back from a 57-4 hammering at Wigan.
“We will stay humble,” Frayssinous said. “We have never performed at Huddersfield so it will be a tough one again and we play a team that was embarrassed a few days ago. But we know what we can do now.”
Leeds looked to be in control when tries from Super League Dream Team members Carl Ablett and Kallum Watkins gave them a 14-6 lead at half-time.
Williams, who is leaving the Catalans at the end of the season to return to the NRL with Canberra, had scored his side’s only first-half try but they hit the front with two more in the third quarter from forwards Zeb Taia and Louis Anderson, both converted by Thomas Bosc.
The Rhinos, who ended the Super League season with five consecutive defeats, thought they had spared their blushes when skipper Kevin Sinfield carved out a try for second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan 11 minutes from the end, but coach Brian McDermott had no complaints over the result and absolved Briscoe of any blame.
“We weren’t good enough at any period of that game to win it,” McDermott said. “I didn’t think Catalans were great either but they were dogged throughout and exploited a couple of defensive weaknesses.
“They scored the try off Tom’s error but that’s not where the game was lost at all. We had at least another two defensive blunders and mediocre attack.
“We’ve been there for a while now and the players haven’t been able to break out of it. They’ve been working really hard to try to turn things around but ultimately it’s cost us at the end.
“We haven’t quite hit our straps towards the back end of the year. We’re not going to get to the Grand Final and it’s really hard to take for everybody in the club.”
McDermott was critical of the Dragons’ late tackles on Sinfield by Louis Anderson and Vincent Duport.
He said: “We’ve gone back to 1980s rugby league haven’t we, where supposed ‘tough’ men played the game.
“There are some things there that I thought weren’t allowed, where pivotal men were taken out of the game. Kev is a proper tough fella, he took them and got up afterwards.”