Catalans Dragons 27 Leeds Rhinos 18: Deja vu as Super League leaders puunish weakened visitors

Having let a 10-point lead slip at home to Catalans Dragons last week, Leeds Rhinos were unable to hang on to an even bigger advantage in last night’s rematch with the Betfred Super League leaders.

Tom Briscoe scored two tries for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/
Tom Briscoe scored two tries for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/

This time Rhinos were 18-2 up at the break, having led 18-8 at that stage seven days earlier and again they failed to score in the second half, going down 27-18.

It was almost an exact copy of the previous encounter, which Catalans won 26-18. Rhinos’ first half performance was outstanding as they kept their line intact in the face of heavy pressure and ran in three tries themselves.

But, just like last week, they weren’t in the contest after half-time. Catalans came out for the second period with fire in their bellies and 18 points in 13 minutes set them on track for a ninth successive win.

Cameron Smith had a strong game for Leeds. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Leeds could not cope with Dragons in the second period, but should take positives from the way they played in the first 40, with and without the ball. Another makeshift lineup could not have expected to be so far in front at the interval, but they again ran out of steam.

Discipline, not for the first time this year, was poor as Leeds conceded a flurry of penalties and once Catalans got on the front foot, Rhinos had no way of reversing the situation. In the second period they rarely got out of their own half and didn’t manage a meaningful attack.

Catalans went ahead through an eighth minute penalty goal by Arthur Mourgue, following a dangerous tackle by Matt Prior and Fouad Yaha almost got over Leeds’ line moments later, but was kept out by a stunning tackle from Konrad Hurrell.

Leeds countered to snatch the lead when Tom Briscoe got over at the corner from Richie Myler’s outstanding cut-out pass. With Rhyse Martin missing, Gale took kicking duties and landed a touchline conversion.

Briscoe went from try scorer to saver on 21 minutes with a brilliant effort to crash Tom Davies into touch just short of the line. Catalans got even closer just before the half hour, but a missed chance was ruthlessly punished by the visitors.

Mourgue’s kick to Leeds’ right wasn’t taken by Luke Briscoe, came loose and was scooped up by Josh Drinkwater who went over. Referee Ben Thaler indicated a try and video assistant Marcus Griffiths decided the ball had come off Briscoe, but then spotted a fumble when he checked the grounding.

That was a huge escape and a 12-point turnaround and Leeds went to the other end, forced a drop out and scored in the subsequent set. Leeds kept the ball alive on the last, Cameron Smith dabbed through a smart low kick which Davies couldn’t control and Tom Briscoe touched down.

Smith produced some more sublime skill a couple of minutes before the interval, coming up with a wonderful flick pass which sent Kruise Leeming between the posts following some outstanding improvised handling by Brad Dwyer, Hurrell, Sam Walters and Liam Sutcliffe.

Gale added his third conversion, but - having been so good in the opening 40 - Leeds made a woeful start to the second period, dropping the ball in their first set and revitalised Dragons were ahead within 13 minutes of the restart.

Leeds conceded after just four minutes, to Sam Kasiano. The giant forward rumbled over in the set after Tom Briscoe was penalised for a high shot on Sam Tomkins on the last.

Then Tomkins picked Myler’s pocket with a wonderful catch from a towering kick and offloaded to send Mourgue over.

On 53 minutes Matt Whitley, a try scorer last week, went over off a fine pass from Drinkwater and, with Mourgue converting all three, Leeds were two points behind.

Drinkwater had a touchdown ruled out for an alleged knock-on by Mickael Goudemend, which was a poor call from Thaler, but it hardly mattered as some blistering handling ended with Davies diving over following a break by Yaha.

The missed goal kept Rhinos in contention, but they continued to give away penalties and make errors when they did manage to get hold of the ball

With 15 minutes left Thaler was again overruled by Griffiths after he thought Yaha had managed to get the ball down over the top of Sutcliffe and Luke Briscoe. To their credit, Leeds were still in it until eight minutes from time when Tomkins booted a drop goal, then Mourgue booted his second penalty, when Leeds were caught offside following a tired error by Hurrell.

Leeds coach Richard Agar must dream of the day he can name a side without some sort of misfortune making things even more difficult. Having already lost Bodene Thompson and Rhyse Martin to suspensions picked up following last week’s game, Rhinos travelled to France without King Vuniyayawa, because of an issue with his visa.

And Morgan Gannon became the latest Leeds player to miss out on contact tracing. The 17-year-old had to isolate after a family member tested positive for coronavirus.

So, yet again, it was a makeshift side, including two players named in the 17 for the first time this year.

Harry Newman came straight back in at centre, 10 months after suffering a broken leg and he showed some encouraging touches. Half-back Callum McLelland was on the bench, having recovered from ankle surgery and a groin injury. He got a few minutes late in the contest.

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