Leeds Rhinos 18 Catalans Dragons 26 - Weary Leeds finally run out of steam against impressive leaders
THE VISIT of table-topping Catalans Dragons proved a game too far for Leeds Rhinos last night as their four-match winning run came to an end.
Leading 18-8 at the break, Leeds conceded three converted tries in the final 40 minutes without being able to reply and the 26-18 scoreline was a fair reflection overall.
But Rhinos deserved the ovation they received from the crowd after coming through a ridiculously draining schedule over the past two weeks with heads held high.
It was another huge effort from Leeds, but - inevitably - they ran out of steam in the second half as four games in 13 days finally took its toll.
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Rhinos were full value for their 10 point lead at the break, having battled back from 8-0 down, but once Catalans got in front a second time, Leeds just didn’t have the energy to get back in the contest.
They were outplayed in the second period, but under the circumstances, it’s hard to be critical after Leeds again put their bodies on the line.
When they had some energy left, in the first half, Rhinos played tremendous rugby, keeping the ball alive in thrilling style at times.
They had very little momentum after the break though and errors, understandably, began to creep in. Unlike Warrington four days earlier, Catalans were clinical enough to take advantage.
Some fresh legs, with Richie Myler, Luke Gale, Cameron Smith and King Vuniyayawa all returning, helped early on, but typically of this season, while Rhinos got four players back, they also unexpectedly lost a couple.
Ash Handley and Mikolaj Oledzki both had to isolate while close contacts - not related to rugby - awaited the results of Covid tests.
Oledzki was a doubt anyway, having injured a foot against Warrington, but it was another setback for Handley after his knee problems and then the concussion which kept him out of successive games.
Rob Lui was effectively rested, having played two games in five days following a long lay-off, but other than Kruise Leeming filling in again in the halves, everyone else was able to start in their favoured position.
One of those was Tom Briscoe, restored to the left-wing after an effective spell at centre.
He almost opened the scoring after six minutes from Myler’s cut-out pass, but put a foot in touch, in Sam Tomkins’ tackle, before getting over the line.
Dragons opened the scoring moments later when James Maloney took the two after what referee James Child felt was a late tackle by Bodene Thompson on Mike McMeeken.
Catalans received three penalties and a six-again in the opening 11 minutes, the latter leading to their opening try when Arthur Mourgue forced his way over through some very tired defence, Maloney adding the extras.
That was a worrying sign for Leeds, but they got a lift through a reviving try six minutes later and did really well to keep Dragons out for the rest of the half, while adding a couple more scores themselves.
Leeds’ opener came after their first penalty, unnecessarily given away by Joel Tomkins for a dangerous tackle on Tom Briscoe.
In that set Gale kicked to Dragons’ left, Fouad Yaha spilled the ball under pressure from Luke Briscoe and Rhyse Martin picked up to scoot over and add the extras.
Thompson nosed Rhinos in front soon afterwards when he crashed over from acting-half Brad Dwyer’s quick pass and Leeds should have gone further ahead in the next set when Myler and Liam Sutcliffe carved Catalans open on Rhinos’ left, the centre turned the ball inside and Gale spilled the pass with the line open.
Catalans were down to 12 men when the hosts did gain a bit more breathing space, just before the break, through Sutcliffe.
He was very alert to nip through from acting-half when Maloney conceded a six-again after Myler had been tackled just short.
Sam Kasiano had been sin-binned three minutes earlier for a high tackle on Luke Briscoe, though that was harsh as his arm seemed to bounce up off the Leeds man’s chest.
There were two other incidents of note in the opening period; Tom Davies looked a certain scorer, but was brilliantly held up over the line by forward Alex Mellor, with assistance from Myler, then McMeeken caught Sutcliffe high and Maloney followed up with a flop, leading to a brief scuffle.
Catalans built pressure throughout the opening 12 minutes of the second half, on the back of a couple of six-agains, a penalty and two drop outs. Leeds scrambled magnificently to keep them out until a fine pass from Maloney put Matt Whitley through a gap for a try which Mourgue converted.
Just five minutes after that, Maloney again provided the money ball, this time for McMeeken and the conversion gave Dragons a two-point lead.
Maloney should have been penalised for a high shot on Sutcliffe close to Dragons’ line, but landed a 40-20 in the next set and from that Yaha went over from Sam Tomkins’ pass to - once Mourgue had added the extras - open a two-score gap.
Morgue - filling in for Josh Drinkwater - and Maloney controlled matters in the second period.
The penalty count finished 8-7 in Catalans’ favour, after Leeds had five to the visitors’ four in the opening period. Catalans received three of the game’s four six-agains