FOR Leeds Rhinos, this was a vast improvement but still no where needed what is required to rescue their season.
In the final stages last night, as the ailing champions frantically tried to get the score that would probably bring a hard-earned draw, there was signs of old.
Leeds, suddenly emboldened by confidence after getting back to 18-12, looked readied to strike and seemed able to drag themselves over the line against a Catalans Dragons side that was on the ropes.
Mitch Garbutt almost got over and more attacks came as they looked for the crucial final play.
Yet, in the end, there was none. It is the story of their season.
Another pass went to ground, this time from Joel Moon who was arguably their best player, and, instead, Eloi Pelissier raced 60m for the visitors to secure the win with the final play.
Leeds certainly came close and it was so much better than the defensive horrors against Warrington the previous week.
But, still, they have now lost seven successive games for the first time in more than 30 years and edged ever closer to the mathematical certainty of life in the Qualifiers.
Already missing eight regulars, they got off to the worst possible start when Keith Galloway injured his shoulder in the very first tackle.
He tried to bring fellow Australian prop Willie Mason down in the opening exchange of the game but was left grounded and clearly in pain, prompting an immediate change.
Losing a front-row was the last thing coach Brian McDermott needed against such physical opponents but his side initially looked undeterred and started with some real vigour.
Indeed, Brett Ferres went over for the game’s first try after Moon – back after two months out injured – darted from dummy-half on the last tackle.
Jordan Lilley converted but Leeds fans know not to get carried away; they had scored first in the last four games and lost them all. True to form, they failed to build on their initial advantage.
Beau Falloon, the Australian hooker who has struggled for any sort of form in his debut campaign at Headingley, criminally fumbled under no pressure when in the shadow of Catalans’ posts.
Danny McGuire almost intercepted Todd Carney’s ambitious long pass on the Catalans’ 20 but just could not hold on.
Instead, Laurent Frayssinous’s side drew level as Justin Horo raced onto Carney’s perfectly-placed grubber in the 15th minute, Carney improving
Thereafter, Leeds simply could not create any momentum as they continually gave the ball up, often in their own half and too often early in the set as well.
After Jamie Jones-Buchanan produced a fine tackle to dislodge the ball from Remi Casty when the France prop looked destined to score, it ended sustained pressure on Leeds’s line, but they handed possession straight back.
Leeds held out once more but, after gaining a penalty, Ferres repeated the trick, coughing up first tackle on halfway.
From that last error, Catalans capitalised, giant winger Fouad Yaha, despite being well marked, barging his way through some feeble defence in the corner to make it 10-6 on 27 minutes.
On it went. Sam Hallas pushed a pass forward in Catalans’ 20 after some rare territory and then the young hooker lost the ball when making the third carry out of his own 20 after a kick return.
That allowed Catalans position to score their third try in the 36th minute but, again, the defence was worryingly porous as Antoni Maria was afforded time to lumber forward and slip Jason Baitieri through a gaping hole in front of the Leeds posts.
Carney converted for a 16-6 lead and, with the Australian stand-off clearly in the mood, you already sensed the game had gone for Leeds.
In fairness, Catalans were as lax at times, Thomas Bosc becoming the latest player to fumble at a play-the-ball but, again, Leeds stuttered, Ferres attempting an offload that was never on.
In their defence, Leeds started the second period better and they made Catalans work for the victory. Horo could only stop a charging Jones-Buchanan by going high and, then, Vincent Duport just managed to hold on to Kallum Watkins as the England centre finally found half a gap.
Moon produced an old-fashioned runaround to create an overlap – only for his final pass to be unusually poor, Luke Briscoe unable to stoop low enough to take it. Catalans, showing signs of a side that could challenge for the title, edged further in front, Morgan Escare striking a fine 40/20 kick to relieve pressure and, when Garbutt collared Casty high, Carney slotting two more points for an 18-6 advantage.
However, Leeds rallied when Josh Walters finished off in the 67th minute after Yaha made a hash of Liam Sutcliffe’s kick, Lilley’s third conversion getting them in sight.
But that was all it was.
Leeds: Sutcliffe, L. Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Handley, McGuire, Lilley, Galloway, Falloon, Garbutt, Delaney, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Keinhorst, Mullally, Walters, Hallas.
Catalans Dragons: Escare, Broughton, Gigot, Duport, Yaha, Carney, Albert, Mason, Pelissier, Casty, Stewart, Horo, Baitieri. Substitutes: Bousquet, Bosc, Maria, Navarrete.
Referee: B Thaler (RFL).