Kevin Sinfield scored a personal tally of 16 points as Leeds Rhinos ran away with the game, finishing comfortable winners in the south of France against Catalan Dragons.
England captain Sinfield, who earlier in the week had been ruled out of the game with an ankle injury by his coach, turned in a man-of-the-match performance with a try and six conversions from as many attempts.
The home side started the brighter and opened the scoring through Michael Oldfield following a set play from a scrum. William Barthau converted, but the toll of having eight regulars missing eventually told for the Dragons.
Leeds fought back and Joel Moon touched down in the left corner after exchanging passes with Ryan Hall, Sinfield converting.
Leeds scored again without Catalan touching the ball as Brett Delaney raced onto Paul Aiton’s flat pass after good work by Ryan Bailey.
On the half hour mark, Sinfield and Watkins combined to send Tom Briscoe away down the right touchline and the winger showed his pace to score down the right, outpacing Mathias Pala in the process.
Leeds ran riot in the opening 10 minutes of the second half with both Carl Ablett and Ryan Hall touching down with the Dragons not touching the ball.
Ablett raced on to Burrow’s short pass after the half-back had dummied right then passed left, while Hall was on the end of a flowing move after good work by Moon.
Catalans got some consolation in the 52nd minute with Jean-Phillipe Baile scoring from Barthau’s kick – Barthau adding the conversion.
However, the visitors finished the strongest.
Sinfield then finished off a flowing move with 14 minutes remaining.
Hardaker and Watkins combined to send Briscoe away down the right, his inside ball found Danny McGuire – who juggled with the ball before offloading to the supporting Sinfield who continued through to touch down.
In the closing seconds of the game, Moon and Hall again combined exceptionally to see Hall touch down in the corner.
With Sinfield off the field, it was left to Rob Burrow to attempt the touchline conversion. However, as the hooter sounded, his effort faded across the front of the posts.
Afterwards, Rhinos’ coach Brian McDermott said he had always anticipated a tough encounter in southern France.
“We planned for it being a tough fixture,” McDermott said after the game.
“For a good half an hour there it was as tough as it has been this year.
“Also, we’re also aware they were missing some very, very important people from their team.
“We knew they would be massive for the first half an hour and if we could just live it with them, we may have some opportunities later in the first half.
“It pretty much went to script, but for that to happen we had to be very tough.
“They scored a very good try early on and it was a massive contest for half an hour.
“I thought we looked for too much, especially in that second half.
“We got a bit loose and scrappy, but credit to Catalans, they would not go away.”
McDermott initially feared his captain would not be fit enough to pla in last night’s game, but Sinfield kicked six goals from as many attempts and scored a try.
The stand-off twisted an ankle in the win over Warrington seven days earlier, but his ability to bounce back quickly left his coach purring.
McDermott said: “I thought he would probably be out for two weeks and I would have put my house on him missing one.
“It is remarkable what can happen with medicine. It is great credit to our physio Andy Barker and to Kevin, who did everything he could in the week to make sure he’d be all right.”
Catalan Dragons: Escare, Vaccari, Millard, Baile, Oldfield, Pryce, Barthau, Lima, Henderson, Paea, Whitehead, Taia, Mounis. Substitutes: Maria, Simon, Fakir, Baitieri.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ward, Ablett, Delaney. Substitutes:Burrow, Bailey, Clarkson, Singleton.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (RFL).