AFTER A week of criticism and soul-searching, Leeds Rhinos came up with a morale-boosting response in an excellent 46-10 win over Catalans Dragons at Headingley.
Rhinos – in terms of attitude, desire and commitment – were transformed from the side obliterated 66-10 at Castleford Tigers eight days earlier.
That was Leeds’ record Super League defeat. Last night was their highest score against top-flight opposition since the 50-0 Challenge Cup final victory over Hull KR in August, 2015.
Rhinos moved the ball around better than at any stage in their previous four games this year, defended as well as they had done prior to last week’s capitulation and were determined and resolute in the face of adversity.
Catalans had a run of penalties in the first half and Leeds were reduced, briefly, to 11 men with two in the sin-bin, but they refused to cave in.
The first half was their best period of rugby so far this season and Leeds maintained it after the break, scoring a couple of long-range tries which they haven’t looked capable of up to now.
There were some fine individual performances, led by two-try prop Adam Cuthbertson and hooker Matt Parcell. Ashton Golding played well at the back – including one astonishing try-saving tackle – Jimmy Keinhorst continued his impressive run of form and Liam Sutcliffe scored 22 points from a try and nine goals.
And Danny McGuire showed more signs of getting back to what he is capable of, topping off a terrific individual effort with his first try since the 2015 treble-clinching Grand Final win over Wigan.
This was with most of the team who were outclassed at the Jungle, though Leeds had three players back.
Tom Briscoe, dropped last week was back on the right-wing in place of Ash Handley.
Handley is in Featherstone Rovers’ initial 19 for tomorrow’s clash with Sheffield Eagles, along with Jack Ormondroyd who was also left out last night.
Carl Ablett returned from suspension in the second-row and Rob Burrow – ill last week – took a place on the bench.
Jordan Baldwinson made his first start for Leeds – in his sixth appearance – at loose-forward and Brett Delaney and Josh Walters retained their places, but among the substitutes. Jordan Lilley was not selected and players still on the injured list were Keith Galloway, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Stevie Ward, Mitch Garbutt and Brett Ferres.
The changes worked, as did a couple of positional switches which became apparent in the opening moments when, playing in the back-row, Sutcliffe got over the line, but the pass from Joel Moon – operating at stand-off – was ruled forward by referee James Child.
The first try came six minutes later, in the set from a penalty, Parcell offloading to Cuthbertson and he stretched over from close to the line.
Sutcliffe added the extras and then booted a penalty on 14 minutes. Rhinos almost scored, but McGuire fumbled Parcell’s pass – after it had been touched by a Catalans hand – and something was said at the scrum to upset Child.
Golding has been among Leeds’ top performers at the start of the season and he made a remarkable intervention midway through the first half to keep Catalans out.
Luke Walsh’s huge kick bounced off a post and straight back to Justin Horo, who picked up at full pelt and looked certain to score, but was somehow pulled down by the full-back.
Soon after that Rhinos were reduced to 12 players when Cuthbertson was sin-binned for delaying a quick tap.
Catalans received four successive penalties, the last for a tackle in the air when Briscoe prevented Iain Thornley touching down from Walsh’s kick – but Rhinos held out.
Moments after that another penalty led to Rhinos being placed on a team warning and then Keinhorst was sin-binned – for persistent team offending – after a holding down offence.
Catalans exploited the extra space to score an unconverted try through Brayden Wiliame and Cuthbertson returned in time for the restart.
The penalties, most of them at least, were probably justified and Cuthbertson’s indiscretion was unnecessary, but fans expect consistency and Child failed to penalise a flop on Sutcliffe in front of the posts just before the break, which should have gifted Leeds two more points.
Rhinos defended back-to-back penalties – and a drop out – at the start of the second half, then struck in a penalty set of their own on 46 minutes.
It was one for the season highlights reel, Keinhorst throwing a glorious dummy and scampering through a huge gap.
Sutcliffe’s goal made it 20-4, but Catalans were back in it moments later when Julian Bousquet touched down and Walsh added the extras.
The final pass from Richie Myler was well forward, but only as much as the one from Ward to Cuthbertson which led to Leeds’ winning try against Salford in their previous home game, so Rhinos couldn’t complain too much.
Cuthbertson scored his second try soon after Bousquet’s, to give Leeds vital breathing space. Keinhorst intercepted, Moon went close on the next play and then Burrow, who had just come on for Parcell, sent the big prop over,
Sutcliffe’s fifth goal made it 26-10, then the clock was rolled back a decade or so as Burrow and McGuire scored back-to-back tries.
Burrow’s came from acting-half around half-way, the veteran dodging into space and zooming clear, then McGuire finished off a lovely long-range move also involving Burrow, Moon, Sutcliffe and Keinhorst.
Sutcliffe converted both and then scored the final try from Burrow’s grubber. He converted and maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot by landing a penalty goal after the hooter.
Leeds prop Brad Singleton was placed on report in the first half following a challenge on Greg Bird, who continued – after treatment – with his head bandaged.
The penalty count finished 10-8 to Catalans (8-6 in their favour in the first half).
Meanwhile, Rhinos drew 34-34 with Catalans in the curtain-raiser, after leading 18-4 midway through the first half.
Owen Trout, Dakota Wylie and Harry Newman crossed for Rhinos in the first half and Tyler Dupree, Tom Hall and Harry Boyes – with an equaliser two minutes from time – touched down after the break. Tom Schofield landed five goals.
Cameron Smith, a member of Rhinos’ first team squad, made his return from a back injury, but went off hurt in the second half.