Catalans Dragons 26 Leeds Rhinos 14: Rhinos season ended as Catalans start on fire

Seeing both his starting props off the field with barely half-hour played will have left Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar wincing at home tonight.

It was almost inevitable his side would see their season ended thereafter.

Losing Ava Seumanufagai and Mikolaj Oledzki, their towering twin peaks, to HIAs would not always leave an insurmountable task.

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However, suffering that fate against an aggressive Catalans Dragons side boasting mountainous forwards such as Sam Kasiano and Sam Moa, meant there was always going to be issues for Agar’s side.

It left Leeds with only one recognised prop, Matt Prior, and, moreover, they were already 18-0 down in this elimination play-off when Oledzki suffered his head-knock.

The Polish-born forward was trying to stop Kasiano’s powerful return from the restart after Israel Folau had scored the French side’s third try of the night but he suffered a horrendous collision and it was clear his night was over.

That said, brain - and no little mobility - can sometimes overcome brawn and, with their agile bench of Alex Sutcliffe, James Donaldson and Brad Dwyer entering the fray, they did the utmost to retrieve the damage.

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Sutcliffe scored before the break after rounding off Leeds’ first real incisive move of the half, namesake Liam making the break and Luke Gale providing the final pass for Rhys Martin to convert.

Leeds Rhinos' Luke Gale makes a break (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)Leeds Rhinos' Luke Gale makes a break (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)
Leeds Rhinos' Luke Gale makes a break (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

When Liam Sutcliffe added a second try in the 48th minute after Konrad Hurrell’s offload was accentuated by fine work from Gale and Prior, at 18-10 Catalans suddenly realised their passage to next Friday’s semi-final at St Helens might be as easy as first believed.

Indeed, Steve McNamara’s side - who had played just once in five weeks - were fortunate not to be reduced to 12 men when Michael McIllorum’s wild swinging arm left Dwyer with a bloodied nose.

It did not even merit a penalty, though; no wonder the Leeds-born Catalans hooker was left smirking.

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Agar, calling in his instructions from home to James Webster and Sean Long given both him and assistant Jamie Jones-Buchanan have been self-isolating for the past week, must have been shaking his head in disbelief.

Leeds Rhinos' Alex Sutcliffe scores (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)Leeds Rhinos' Alex Sutcliffe scores (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)
Leeds Rhinos' Alex Sutcliffe scores (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Rhinos full-back Richie Myler was left equally stunned and irate by one unconventional Joel Tomkins challenge and tempers, predictably, flared.

Leeds, though, for all their competitiveness and fighting spirit, crcuially could not find that next try.

Instead, Robert Lui, having swatted off three defenders with a fine run out of his own 20, gave a no-look pass in the 63rd minute trying to get Hurrell away.

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Instead, the ball only found David Mead, Catalans’ Papuan who turned, shrugged off Hurrell and scampered in for the score his side so desperately needed.

Leeds Rhinos' assistant coach Sean Long (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)Leeds Rhinos' assistant coach Sean Long (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)
Leeds Rhinos' assistant coach Sean Long (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Hurrell did respond soon after following more incisive work from Liam Sutcliffe and Prior but Martin missed the conversion attempt again and the Challenge Cup holders’ hopes of pushing on to complete a double were ended.

In fairness, the damage was done during that slow start when they were 12-0 down inside just eight minutes following converted Tom Davies and Samson Langi tries.

England full-back Sam Tomkins was the architect of both, first with a scintillating break from deep as he left Myler in his wake for Davies to score after just 71 seconds and then with a perfectly-placed grubber.

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The game started at a frenetic pace and, while not always the highest quality, had all the ingredients required for a fascinating play-off tie.

Indeed, Seumanufagi suffered his injury when carrying the actual kick-off back, clashing heads with Langi and carrying on before it became obvious he was suffering.

In response, Rhys Martin made a corruscating break on the last tackle but could not find his support while Myler gave Tom Briscoe some space but he was bundled towards touch and Mead raced picked up his flung pass inside to race upfield.

Prior had an effort ruled out after running into team-mate Kruise Leeming when going over from dummy-half and Leeds - who finished fifth - will know their accuracy just was not good enough initially.

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Tomkins’ high kick saw Folau rise above Myler and twist through Ash Handley to score, James Maloney slotting the third of five goals.

Then came Oledzki’s injury and there would be no famous comeback.

Catalans, of course, had only completed 13 regular rounds compared to Leeds’ 17 but finished fourth on win percentage.

Given the lengths they went to to keep the season alive - paying for a chartered plane to the north of England week after week when Super League resumed in August - few can begrudge them their chance to now fight for a first Grand Final in their history.

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Catalans Dragons: S Tomkins; Davies, Folau, Langi, Mead; Maloney, Drinkwater; Casty, McIllorum, Bousquet, Whitley, J Tomkins, Garcia. Substitutes: Moa, Seguier, Baitieri, Kasiano.

Leeds Rhinos: Myler; T Briscoe, L Sutcliffe, Hurrell, Handley; Lui, Gale; Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki, Martin, Thompson, Prior. Substitutes: Dwyer, Donaldson, A Sutcliffe, Smith.


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