Video: Big-match verdict – Leeds Rhinos’ self-inflicted wounds hand victory to Catalans Dragons
LEEDS RHINOS’ 26-22 defeat in Perpignan was the story of their season so far.
In patches Rhinos looked like a good side, scoring some excellent tries and defending their line strongly, but they can’t maintain it.
The loss in France left Rhinos rooted to the foot of Betfred Super League with more than a quarter of their fixtures completed and the situation is getting serious.
What makes their run of defeats – seven from eight games so far and now five in succession – all the more frustrating is the fact they have scored first five times and only one of their losses came without Leeds leading at some stage.
Against Catalans, Rhinos were 12-0 and 16-6 up in the first half, but it was all-square at the break. The French side went ahead for the first time at the end of the third quarter and although Leeds levelled, the winning try came seven minutes from the end.
The most crucial phase of the game was the nine minutes before half-time when Catalans scored 10 unanswered points. Those came on the back of four straight penalties and Leeds could feel hard done to, but the count finished 10-10 – from 7-3 in the first half – and Rhinos did get the benefit of some 50-50 decisions after the interval without making them count.
Catalans did well to win the game from a poor start and had a four-try hero in winger Fouad Yaha, but many of Leeds’ wounds were self-inflicted, six of their points coming when Brett Ferres was in the sin-bin for using his knees on Matt Whitley after the former Widnes forward had been tackled – on the last – by Richie Myler.
Rhinos conceded two tries from acting-half close to their line and were vulnerable under kicks. They also, in the second-half, made crucial handling errors, turning the ball over several times in their territory, mistakes which were ruthlessly punished.
At the death, Leeds had an opportunity, but Myler’s panic pass early in the tackle count went into touch, clearly a consequence of the pressure this poor run is putting Leeds under.
A few minutes earlier, the ball came loose from Mickael Goudemand and Matt Parcell crossed Catalans’ line, but referee Robert Hicks awarded Rhinos the feed at a scrum.
Leeds felt it should have been referred to video official Ben Thaler, but he confirmed afterwards that Hicks had called the tackle complete before the ball came out, therefore the decision was correct.
Sam Kasiano – brought in from Melbourne Storm – is a huge signing for Catalans in more ways than one. Leeds would be a different team with a player of that ilk and he gave the hosts a major lift when he came on in the second quarter with Rhinos in control.
Rhinos’ inability to cope when a big man runs straight at them is proving very costly.
Leeds were clinical in attack during the first half, though less so afterwards and their left edge was highly effective scoring all four of the visitors’ tries.
Ash Handley went over for three of those to become Super League’s top try-scorer, despite playing for the bottom-placed side.
Konrad Hurrell provided the final pass for two of those and crossed himself, but it was a torrid evening on the other flank.
Individually, several Leeds players had good nights. Full-back Jack Walker played well and Myler – in his 300th career appearance – had good moments, making some vital tackles and providing excellent passes for two of Handley’s three touchdowns.
He was partnered in the halves by Liam Sutcliffe, who was switched from the second-row after first-choice stand-off Tui Lolohea was dropped.
Sutcliffe, who kicked two conversions and a penalty, had a fine game and was unlucky to be on the losing team.
Handley’s opener was a good try, Myler’s cut-out pass finding Hurrell, who sent his winger over, with Sutcliife then adding the extras after just five minutes.
On 10 minutes, Tony Gigot fired out a pass towards Catalans’ right wing which was intercepted by Handley, who cruised 90 metres for a converted try to make it 12-0.
However, Leeds conceded a penalty for offside, Matty Smith kicked towards Tom Briscoe, the ball came loose and after Hicks had restarted the tackle count Yaha went over from acting-half.
It was a pity from Leeds’ point of view because Kallum Watkins had made an outstanding tackle on Brayden Wiliame before the kick.
Hurrell stormed past Gigot from Walker’s pass after good handling across the line by Sutcliffe and Myler following two Catalans errors near their line and, if Rhinos had held on to their 10-point advantage at the break, maybe the result would have been different.
However, Yaha dived over at the corner from Wiliame’s high pass after Kasiano and Gigot had handled and then Lucas Albert went over from close-range seconds after Ferres had been sin-binned.
Ten minutes into the second half, Rhinos received a last-tackle penalty for interference on Hurrell and scored in the subsequent set, Handley completing his hat-trick from a well-judged pass by Myler after Sutcliffe and Brad Dwyer had handled.
There was no goal and Catalans went ahead with 19 minutes remaining when Rhinos shot themselves in the foot. A mix-up between Parcell – who had just come on – and Watkins handed possession to Catalans deep in Rhinos territory and Yaha went in for his hat-trick score from Wiliame’s pass, Tomkins adding the extras.
Gigot had a touchdown – initially awarded by Hicks – ruled out by Thaler before Hurrell made a fine break, was pulled down by Tomkins, knocked on and hurled the ball away in disgust. Though referees often turn a blind eye to that sort of petulance, Hicks penalised the Leeds man.
If that stern response becomes automatic the game will be better for it.
Rhinos levelled two minutes later through a Sutcliffe goal when Sam Tomkins, who niggled all game, was penalised for interference on Myler, but Yaha’s fourth try proved decisive after a penalty and drop out put Leeds under pressure.
Lolohea’s omission wasn’t the only team change. Watkins returned from a two-game injury lay-off and Brad Dwyer was recalled at hooker with Parcell switching to the bench.
Brad Singleton returned among the substitutes in place of the injured Adam Cuthbertson and James Donaldson was dropped.