With Salford Red Devils having taken the Castleford Tigers to the cleaners earlier in the afternoon, the Leeds Rhinos knew that a win in the south of France against the Catalans Dragons would ensure that they would be experiencing play off football in 2022. A loss would make next Saturday´s final round clash with the Castleford Tigers a play off for the play offs, with a winner takes all scenario.
But Leeds coach Rohan Smith went into the game hoping to get the job done a week early and leave the last weekend as a tussle for places inside the six rather than in the six.
The Dragons have win just once in their last three outings while the Rhinos went into the game on the back of six successive wins, including a 36-32 win in Perpignan. But Steve McNamara wasn´t going to make it easy for Leeds and named a strong side for the game, the bookies giving the Rhinos an eight point start on the handicap coupon.
It took just under three minutes for the try machine, Fouad Yaha, to take the Mitchell Pearce pass in acres of space to dive in at the corner. Tyrone May dragged his conversion attempt wide of the uprights, the home side 4-0 ahead.
When a Zak Hardaker goal line dropout failed to make it ten metres, Arthur Mourgue kicked thre resulting penalty to extend the lead.
Great work from Leeds, Sam Walters burrowing over the line from short range off a terrific Kruise Leeming pass. Rhyse Martin added the conversion, his 31st consecutive kick, to level the scores at 6-6 with fifteen minutes on the clock.
An error in defence from the Rhinos, Richie Myler not able to collect a speculative grubber from Tom Davies with Joe Chan first to react and dot the ball down for the try. Mourgue added the conversion for a 12-6 lead.
Returning the ball Mitchell Pearce took a Michael McIlorum pass and stepped off both feet to slam the ball onto the turf under the sticks. Mourgue added the conversion for 18-6, the Dragons hitting the Rhinos with a double whammy.
The Rhinos were having to defend for their lives as the Dragons laid siege to the Leeds line.
But on the half hour mark a looping pass from Mourgue found Yaha in plenty of space to again go in at the corner. May was unable to convert from the touchline, but at 22-6 the home side were in control, the Rhinos couldn´t get hold of the ball.
Gil Dudson joined the party on thirty-three after taking the ball two metres out and dropping over the line. Mourgue was again on target with the boot, Leeds taking a pasting and looking for half time to regroup and get some instruction from their coach.
Two minutes after the restart the Rhinos drew first blood as they capitalised on a Kasiano mistake on the kick off return. After earning a penalty, the ball was moved to the right and Richie Myler span out of the tackle to ground. Martin added the conversion for 12-28, the Rhinos still with a mountain to climb.
On sixty-six Brad Dwyer mesmerised the Dragons defence as he darted through the defence from acting half back to stretch for the line. Martin added the conversion, ten points between the two sides with thirteen minutes left on the clock.
It had been all the Rhinos in the second half until the seventy-sixth minute when Samisoni Langi took a short ball and went over the line brushing off a couple of Leeds tacklers. Mourgue hit the far post with his conversion but it sealed a 32-18 win for the home side.
The Dragons are now certain of a top four finish, but the Leeds Rhinos are far from certain of their place in the play offs. It makes next Saturday´s contest against the Castleford Tigers, sixth against seventh, a play off for the play offs with the winner taking the final place and the loser packing their suitcases for their summer holidays. This was as scrappy encounter, but the Dragons have found some of the form that they were looking for ahead of their own play offs, in taking down one of the form sides in the competition, and with some aplomb.
Catalans Dragons: Mourgue (4G), Yaha (2T), Langi (T), Whare, Davies, May, Pearce (T), Napa, McIlorum, Seguier, Whitley, Chan J (T), Garcia. Subs: Dudson (T), Da Costa, Goudemand, Kasiano.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Martin (3G), Sutcliffe, Tindall, Myler (T), Sinfield, Oledzki, Leeming, Walters (T), Gannon, Tetevano, O´Connor. Subs: Dwyer (T), Prior, Mustapha, Bentley.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, 6-6, 10-6, 12-6, 16-6, 18-6, 22-6, 26-6, 28-6 : HT : 28-10, 28-12, 28-16, 28-18, 32-18, : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Catalans – Square – Catalans.
Referee: Robert Hicks.