TWELVE MAN Leeds Rhinos dug deep to produce a stunning second-half performance which may well have secured their Super League status.
Leading 16-8 when substitute Brad Singleton was sent-off for a high tackle on Sam Kasiano, what followed was Leeds’ best spell for years.
A man down, they scored five tries and 32 unanswered points in the final 28 minutes to beat Catalans Dragons 48-8 and go four points clear of the relegation zone with four games left.
Rhinos were also outstanding for a 10-minute spell in the opening quarter, taking a 16-0 lead.
They wasted a couple of chances after that and Catalans, who looked like being overrun, hit back to halve the gap.
Catalans came to niggle and, after their excellent start, Leeds got dragged in. An early 4-1 penalty count in their favour became 6-5 against by half-time and Rhinos began the second period with 12 men on the field, Konrad Hurrell having been sin-binned for an alleged dangerous tackle on Greg Bird.
Rhinos managed the 10 minutes when Hurrell was in the bin in solid fashion, but Singleton was dismissed within seconds of the centre’s return. The decision was spot on, it was direct contact with the head.
After that it was Catalans who lost their composure, the penalty count finishing 11-8 in Rhinos’ favour.
As Singleton was departing, Richie Myler turned to the South Stand and urged them to raise the volume.
Earlier in the year chins would have dropped, on and off the field, but the fans responded with a cacophony of noise and it brought out the best in players who are finally beginning to look like a team.
In the past two games they have scored 92 points and conceded only eight. There is still some work to do but, if they maintain anything like this form, they have nothing to worry about
Nothing of note happened for the opening nine minutes, but Leeds then opened the scoring with a remarkable try.
Rob Lui’s towering kick looked to be going out of play on the half-volley, but Hurrell refused to give up on what seemed to be a lost cause.
With both feet in the air, he knocked the ball back into play, Ash Handley hacked it on and the winger ran through to touch down at full stretch.
The try was confirmed by video referee Ben Thaler and Rhyse Martin added the extras. In the next set Trent Merrin fumbled at a play-the-ball, but Tony Gigot knocked-on on the first play after the scrum, Catalans were caught offside and Martin took the two.
Catalans had an escape when the ball slipped out of David Mead’s grasp from Brett Ferres’ grubber kick under pressure from Hurrell, but the Leeds man was – incorrectly – called offside.
Brayden Wilkiame spilled Samisoni Langi’s pass near Leeds’ line from the penalty and then Martim came up with something special to extend the lead to two scores.
He took the ball inside his own half, burst through the first line of defence, dummied the next man, hit open space and held off the last tackler to score a stunner.
Martin, who finished with 10 goals from as many attempts, has been a superb signing and has made Leeds a better team.
He is an outstanding kicker, he can tackle as well and is tremendous going forward.
Martin was man of the match, but this writer would have chosen centre harry Newman who was an attacking threat throughout, defended really well and was excellent under pressure.
Having improved that try Martin added another penalty, following a foul on Adam Cuthbertson, to make it 16-0 after 20 minutes. Handley was tackled into touch by Mead – losing the ball in the process – from acting-half, after Handley had been tackled just short, which was a wasted opportunity.
There was another nine minutes before half-time when Newman intercepted Samisoni Langi’s pass with Martin in support. This time the second-rower couldn’t go all the way and then, with tackles in the bag, Ferres chipped out on the full.
Moments later, after Dragons’ third successive penalty, Catalans were on the board through Mickael Goudemand, from a pass by Gigot who converted. Rhinos could feel a little hard done to, because of a possible obstruction in the build-up, along with a forward pass.
Catalans almost pulled at least four more points back four minutes before the break when Lewis Tierney should have scored from Wiliame’s pass, but he knocked on under pressure from Lui.
In the final seconds of the half, Hurrell was sin-binned and Gigot landed the kick.
Singleton’s red card stacked the odds against Rhinos with 28 minutes left, but they extended their lead within four minutes.
Lui, who had just come back on, slid a grubber between the posts and Handley picked Bird’s pocket to gather cleanly and touch down.
Hicks thought it was a try and Thaler tormented the crowd by looking at various angles before getting around to the one which showed the try was good. From then on it was an exhilarating rout. On 58, Brad Dwyer ran out of dummy-half, kicked low over the line and Myler read it brilliantly to score. Martin converted both and added a third penalty goal with 17 minutes left to make it 30-8.
The matter was put beyond any doubt three minutes later, after a high tackle on Luke Briscoe. He replaced brother Tom in the only change to Leeds’ 17 and took some hammer, but did a good job.
Following the penalty, Martin put in a good run and then Lui forced his way through Gigot’s tackle to score from Dwyer’s pass, the conversion making it 36-8.
With 10 left, Myler hit the afterburners to race in for his second try off terrific play by Jack Walker, who was flattened by Mead after the ball had gone.
The Dragons man was sin-binned after Martin landed a brilliant touchline goal. Seconds later, Leeds won a scrum against the head – unbelievably – and, following that, Lui sent Briscoe in for a deserved try.
Stevie Ward warmed up with Rhinos before the game and is expected to make his playing comeback in next Thursday’s home clash with St Helens, the team he was injured against six months ago.
Full-back Iwan Stephens scored a hat-trick of tries for Rhinos under-19s in their 38-12 win over Widnes Vikings in the curtain-raiser.
Other try scorers for Leeds were Ben Markland, Sam Moorhouse, Brad Martin and Loui McConnell, and Harvey Spence kicked five goals.