Leeds Rhinos 25 Toulouse Olympique 14 - Brad Dwyer’s brace helps set up a crucial victory for injury-hit Rhinos

FOR ONLY the second time in 11 games – and first in seven – Leeds Rhinos are back in the winners’ circle following a deserved 25-14 victory over Toulouse Olympique which earned them some previous breathing space at the foot of Betfred Super League.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 23rd April 2022, 12:30 am

In front of an 11,167 Headingley crowd, Rhinos scored four tries – two of them from lively hooker Brad Dwyer – to the visitors’ three, but were on top for most of the game.

Rhinos totally dominated the first half, but led only 12-6 at the break.

Toulouse got into the hosts’ 20 twice, scoring the first time and being held up over it on the other occasion.

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Double bubble: Brad Dwyer scored two tries for Rhinos against Toulouse. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The rest of the period was spent close to their line, but despite all their pressure – and some inventive rugby at times – Rhinos managed only two tries.

They extended their lead to three scores in the third quarter and though Toulouse pulled a couple of tries back late on, Leeds never looked like throwing this game away.

The French side defended well, but Leeds were without all their pivots and the lack of an experienced general was obvious in the way they attacked.

It was Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s first win as interim-coach, at the fifth attempt – with a draw in there as well – and certainly in terms of spirit and determination, Rhinos are in a better place than when he took over.

Highs and lows: Tom Briscoe scored Leeds' third try - but later went off with an ankle injury. Picture Bruce Rollinson

When he watches the game from his home in Brisbane, incoming coach Rohan Smith will certainly feel he has a foundation to build on, though an increasing lack of troops will be cause for concern.

Leeds had fielded a threadbare squad in the defeat at Castleford Tigers four days earlier, but with four players ruled out from that game – Zane Tetevano and James Bentley through suspension, plus the injured Blake Austin (head) and Alex Mellor (chest) – they really were down to the bare bones and picked up two more injuries early in the game.

Rhinos began with centre, Liam Sutcliffe at full-back, hooker Kruise Leeming playing stand-off and 17-year-old Jack Sinfield, in only his second senior game, at scrum-half, but had to reshuffle early in the third-quarter when Sutcliffe went off, so Jack Broadbent stepped in as last line of defence and Rhyse Martin moved from the pack to the three-quarters.

Tom Briscoe, who had scored Leeds’ third try a few minutes earlier, suffered a nasty-looking injury on the hour so Max Simpson, Rhinos’ other 17-year-old, moved to the right-wing, with Morgan Gannon, 18, as his centre.

On the ball: Jack Broadbent drives forward in attack for Rhinos. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Toulouse also had players missing, including Chris Hankinson who was hurt in the warm-up, but Rhinos’ teamsheet will have given them plenty of encouragement, but they weren’t very good, despite leading for a spell in the first half.

That said, they can score points and Leeds still have a lot of work to do in the battle against relegation. Rhinos went desperately close three times in the opening 12 minutes, Ash Handley putting a foot in touch just short of the line, Martin almost getting over from a chip by Leeming – who did a good job out of position – and then Sutcliffe being held up across the whitewash. Toulouse didn’t get out of their half, and barely their 20, until 15 minutes in, but then – as teams tend to do against Leeds – they scored in their first attack.

Tony Gigot landed a 40-20 and then on the last he cross-kicked to Paul Macon who made the catch under no real pressure to score a soft try totally against the run of play, which Gigot improved.

That pretty much summed up Leeds this season, but the response was strong. Toulouse defended confidently, until just before the half hour when James Donaldson powered over from a short pass by Dwyer and Martin’s conversion levelled the scores.

Touchdown: Brad Dwyer scores his second try. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Briscoe looked to have nosed Leeds ahead when he touched down from Leeming’s kick, but he was ruled offside. However, Toulouse failed to complete the set following the penalty, were penalised for dissent and conceded in the resulting attack, two minutes before the interval.

Sinfield reacted quickly to dive on the ball after his kick rebounded off a defender, wiping the tackle count, then Dwyer threw a dummy from acting-half and plunged through a huge gap. Martin again added the extras.

Toulouse had some field position early in the first half, but Leeds handled the pressure without any real scares and added their third try 11 minutes in, scoring on a last tackle play.

Leeming was the creator with a long pass and Briscoe dived over at the corner. Credit should also go to the impressive Gannon whose tackle on half-way, when Toulouse tried to keep the ball alive from Gigot’s towering bomb, set up the attack.

Martin’s conversion attempt was off target, but he took the two with an angled penalty on 57 minutes after Toulouse were caught offside from a kick, opening a 12-point gap. Leeming, Rhinos’ captain, made the – smart – decision to take the two and then landed a drop goal soon afterwards.

Rhinos lost Briscoe who was hurt - with nobody near him - as he went to catch the restart.

The ball went to ground and Toulouse pulled an unconverted try back following their scrum, through Matty Russell. Rhinos, though, made the game safe-ish 12 minutes from time when Dwyer capped a strong game by darting through from acting-half for his second try, which Martin improved before Junior Vaivai scored a late consolation.

Junior Vaivai scored a late consolation six minutes from the end.

The penalty count finished 8-7 in Rhinos’ favour (4-2 in the first half).