Captain marvel Kevin Sinfield showed his remarkable powers of recovery as he bagged 16 points in Leeds Rhinos’ 40-12 win over Catalan Dragons in Perpignan last night.
CAPTAIN MARVEL Kevin Sinfield showed his remarkable powers of recovery as he bagged 16 points in Leeds Rhinos’ 40-12 win over Catalan Dragons in Perpignan last night.
Sinfield scored a try and kicked six conversions from as many attempts, in a difficult, swirling wind, a week after twisting an ankle in the home win over Warrington Wolves.
The captain had each foot in a protective boot during the flight to France, but was given the okay to play and responded with a masterful performance.
The victory at Stade Gilbert Brutus, in Perpignan, extended Rhinos’ winning start to the season to three games and, after an early scare, they were never seriously troubled by an under-strength Dragons outfit.
It was the hosts’ third straight defeat and will increase the pressure on coach Laurent Frayssinous, though he was without many of his front-line stars.
Dragons came out full of enthusiasm and took an early 6-0, but Leeds gradually worked their way into the game and three tries in six minutes gave them an 18-6 interval lead, before two in quick succession soon after the break put the result beyond doubt.
Once again Kallum Watkins had a big game, causing havoc among Dragons’ left-side defence.
His winger Tom Briscoe scored a brilliant try to continue a flying start to his Leeds career and Stevie Ward produced another powerful display as he continued his return from injury.
Catalan were without former Leeds favourite Brent Webb, for the second time in three meetings since he moved to France.
The hosts were also missing suspended duo Olivier Elima and Julien Bosquet, plus Scott Dureau, Thomas Bosc, Vincent Duport and Damien Cardace through injury.
Then Daryl Millard, the former Wakefield Trinity Wildcats centre, was hurt during the warm-up and Mathias Pala was drafted in to take his place.
With all that against them and in their first home game after successive away defeats, Catalan were always going to come out firing and they deserved their early lead, which came after seven minutes.
Danny McGuire knocked-on trying to intercept 40 metres from the Leeds line and Michael Oldfield zipped over from the resulting scrum, with William Barthau landing the conversion.
Leeds could have been level soon afterwards as McGuire split the defence and slung out a long ball to Ryan Hall, but the winger spilled it with the line open.
Hall made amends on 23 minutes, slipping out a clever pass as he worked a one-two with his centre Joel Moon, who showed great strength to power over after Brett Delaney had done the initial ground work.
That came with McGuire down and in obvious pain in backfield, though he got up and played on, in his 350th career appearance.
Paul Aiton got his first start for Rhinos, with Rob Burrow dropping to the bench. The other change saw Ward start, swapping places with substitute Chris Clarkson.
Leeds were in front almost immediately, after being awarded a penalty in the next set for a ball steal on Zak Hardaker.
Aiton made it with some classy work out of dummy-half, going on way and then turning the other to fire out a pass from which Delaney powered over, with Sinfield again adding the extras.
That was Leeds’ 12th try of the season and the first one scored by a forward. Only a brilliant tackle by Leon Pryce on Watkins prevented a third Leeds try seconds later, but Watkins produced a moment of magic on 33 as the Rhinos extended their lead.
Oldfield lost the ball close to the Leeds line and Burrow picked up to feed Sinfield.
He gave it to Watkins and the centre blasted upfield before slipping out a wonderful offload to Briscoe.
The winger has already proved he is a class act, but he underlined that with a brilliant finish for his fifth try in three games for Leeds, hugging the touchline and staying in play despite Pala’s despairing last-ditch tackle. The touchdown was awarded after a multiple replays – just why wasn’t clear – and the conversion made it 18-6.
Gerry Kershaw stepped in as video referee in place of Thierry Alibert, who failed to keep his appointment at the game.
Leeds had more pressure at the end of the first half, but had to wait until the 47th minute to extend their lead.
Burrow had come on to replace Aiton and in a case of “anything you can do” he turned the ball back from acting-half close to the posts and Carl Ablett took it to go over.
Rhinos got a penalty in the set from the re-start and added their fifth try when Moon offloaded to Hall and he squeezed in for his first of the season.
That was his 138th Super League touchdown, moving him level with Kieran Cunningham in 10th spot on the competition’s all -time chart.
The job was more or less done and Leeds took their foot off the gas for a while as Pryce attempted to step things up for the French side.
One chip over the top was a moment of high class, though Sinfield did brilliantly to snuff out the danger. Dragons had not threatened since Oldfield’s score, but they increased their tally on 53 when Barthau kicked to the right and Jean-Philippe Baile made an easy catch to go over for a try which Barthau converted.
Moon had the ball stolen on the line and Briscoe brushed touch before getting the ball down, with Kershaw ruling – correctly – ‘essai refuse’.
Sinfield capped a fine game by finishing off a brilliant team try to put the result beyond doubt with 13 left.
Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Sinfield, Zak Hardaker, Watkins, Briscoe and McGuire handled before the captain skipped over, booted the goal and then went off for a well-earned sit down. In the final seconds Hall bagged a confidence-boosting second after McGuire, Hardaker and Moon had handled, though Burrow could not convert.
The conditions were more like the north of England than southern France.
It was bitterly cold, blowing a gale and torrential rain began shortly before kick-off, though that didn’t last long.
The penalty count finished seven-three to Leeds (2-1 in Leeds’ favour in the first half).
Widnes staged a dramatic late fightback to snatch a 22-20 victory against Huddersfield Giants in the First Utility Super League.
Joe Mellor and Rhys Hanbury scored in the closing minutes at the Select Security Stadium as the Giants, last season’s League Leaders’ Shield winners, surrendered a strong position for a second game in succession.