Big Match Verdict: Resurgent Catalans Dragons proved too strong for Leeds Rhinos

THEY MIGHT not be at crisis point just yet, but Leeds Rhinos aren't far away after a 33-20 defeat at Catalans Dragons.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 28th May 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 28th May 2018, 12:11 pm

Only three wins from their last 10 Betfred Super League games is bottom-four form. They remain sixth, but teams below them are improving and it’s hard to see where Leeds’ next win come from.

Resurgent Catalans Dragons were the better team and their winning margin might have been even bigger, but as poorly as Rhinos played for 60 of the 80 minutes, they could have come away from the south of France with a remarkable victory had a couple of things gone their way.

They rallied from 16-0 down to 17-14 in the third quarter and had two opportunities to go ahead. First, a pass from Richie Myler aimed at Ryan Hall – who would have scored if he had taken it – went into touch. Then Jack Walker made a tremendous break, but was half-stopped by a high tackle from Jodie Broughton.

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Rather than milking it, Walker – to his credit – tried to play on, though his momentum was lost. Referee James Child awarded the penalty, but didn’t think a foul which prevented a try was worth a yellow card and Leeds lost possession in the next set.

Catalans were wobbling and if Rhinos had taken the lead the result might have been different, but the hosts regained control and were worthy winners in the end. When Rhinos get their act together they look good, but they don’t do it for long enough and are usually at least a couple of scores behind first.

To get the excuses out of the way, Rhinos were without 10 first-team players, nine due to injury, plus the suspended Anthony Mullally.

Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Matt Parcell, Nathaniel Peteru and Jamie Jones-Buchanan dropped out from the team beaten by Castleford Tigers a week earlier and joined Liam Sutcliffe, Brad Singleton, Carl Ablett and Mitch Garbutt on the casualty list.

Ash Handley scores at Catalans Dragons.

Jordan Lilley came in at stand-off for his first Leeds game since last September. Jack Ormondroyd and Josh Walters were recalled to the 17 and Jimmy Keinhorst returned from his loan spell at Widnes Vikings, in the right-centre.

Adam Cuthbertson, Brad Dwyer and Brett Ferres all stepped up into the starting line-up leaving Rhinos with a lightweight and inexperienced bench of Ashton Golding, Ormondroyd, Walters and Cameron Smith.

Any team will struggle in the face of that sort of disruption. Catalans away, particularly on a hot day, is a tough assignment and the French side are finally starting to find some form, but, right from the start, Rhinos didn’t look as though they believed they could win.

They got off to a typically poor start, were on the back foot for most of the opening period and fortunate not to be more than 13 points adrift at the interval.

Brian McDermott.

Three tries either side of half-time were an indication of what the champions are capable of. Other than that spell though, they made far too many errors – in attack and defence – and conceded some costly penalties.

Their first-half try came when Catalans were down to 12 men, with Sam Moa in the sin-bin for a shoulder charge on Myler who, like Walker, got straight back up, but other than that they didn’t apply any sustained pressure.

There were some good performances. Walker didn’t look fully fit, but turned in a brave 80 minutes, both wingers did well, Ash Handley ran strongly and Myler had a dig. As a unit though, Leeds let themselves down. They are better, individually and collectively, than they are showing at the moment.

Rhinos went 10-0 down in nine minutes and were 16 points behind before the end of the first quarter, to tries by Benjamin Jullien, Benjamin Garcia and Leeds-born former Wigan hooker Michael McIlorum – from acting-half close to the line – plus two Josh Drinkwater conversions.

Ryan Hall scores.

Rhinos had an escape when a kick was knocked back by David Mead to Tony Gigot, whose pass rebounded back off Jullien’s face and was touched down by the full-back. Child said offside and video assistant Chris Kendall agreed.

Leeds got points on the board after Moa’s temporary exit and did it in style. Handley went on a powerful run, with Myler in support. The half-back didn’t have the legs to get to the line, but was smart enough to dab a well-weighted kick to the corner and Handley was on hand to gather and touch down.

Moa dropped Drinkwater’s pass almost on Leeds’ line moments after his return, but Gigot extended Dragons’ lead with a drop goal five minutes before the break.

That was the seventh kicked against Leeds this year and a clever option, opening a three-score gap.

After a scare 37 seconds into the second half, when a stretcher was brought on for Leeds captain Stevie Ward only for him to eventually get up and play on, Rhinos got back into it.

A penalty put them on the attack and Ferres ran a nice line on to Myler’s pass, Lilley adding the two. That was on 44 minutes and nine later Handley’s pass was taken by Ryan Hall and he finished strongly, though there was no conversion.

After Broughton’s let-off. Lewis Tierney went over for the hosts, Child thought it was a try, but Kendall ruled it out for an obstruction on Ferres.

But Rhinos’ luck didn’t hold. Gigot capped a strong game by dummying through and holding off some poor Leeds defence, Drinkwater scored a solo try in the next set and then Broughton crossed.

Two more Drinkwater conversions took the game out of Rhinos’ reach and Tierney had a touchdown ruled out – for a knock-on – before Dwyer scored from Myler’s kick and Lilley’s conversion was the final action of the game.

The penalty count finished 10-8 to Catalans. It was four-three in their favour in the first half.

One of the few positives for Leeds at the moment is they have some talented young players in their system, though they are a while off being ready for senior action.

Rhinos’ under-19s beat Catalans 40-26 in the curtain-raiser, despite being struck by the club’s injury jinx.

First team squad member Alex Sutcliffe went off hurt after just four minutes and stand-off Reece Chapman-Smith followed him just nine minutes later.

Leeds were 12-0 down, but three tries in six minutes, by Sam Moorhouse, Tyler Dupree and Liam Whitton, sent them in with an 18-12 interval lead.

Dragons levelled early in the second half, before Leeds took control.

Brad Martin and Will Scrimshaw crossed and Spencer Darley scored the final two tries. Harvey Spence converted all seven of Leeds’ touchdowns.

Prop Tom Holroyd was sent-off nine minutes from time for retaliating to a foul which earned a Catalans player a yellow card.