Leeds Rhinos showcase Super League at its best - but Rohan Smith's side must find happy medium
Although the performances were chalk and cheese – the Rhinos only bursting into life in the dying stages against Castleford Tigers last September – the two afternoons showcased Headingley at its best.
The stadium has undergone major surgery in recent times but the club have managed to retain the acoustics and energy that makes Headingley so special.
When the fans and team come together as they did on Saturday, the result is almost a formality.
It was anything but at half-time after Catalans weathered a storm to go in 22-8 to the good.
While the confident Dragons – fresh from a fifth straight win – were composed and clinical, the scoreline did not reflect a fiercely contested opening 40 minutes.
After the interval, Catalans were powerless to stop the inspired Rhinos from racking up 24 unanswered points as their perfect record slipped away.
While the Dragons could rightly point to the loss of Tyrone May, Ben Garcia and Mickael Goudemand to injury, any team would struggle to reverse the momentum when it all clicks for Rohan Smith's Leeds at a fervent Headingley.
The challenge for the Rhinos is to get results against so-called lesser sides when the ball doesn't quite stick and the crowd isn't so influential.
If the wins against St Helens and Catalans were Leeds at their exhilarating best, the lacklustre defeats to Hull FC and Castleford show they still have some way to go to be a consistent force.
With a 'nothing to lose' attitude, the Rhinos enjoyed a remarkable run to the Grand Final last season but this is a new group and a new year, as Smith himself has been at pains to stress.
Zak Hardaker and Kruise Leeming – the two men that combined for a breakaway try in the late fightback against Castleford at the end of 2022 – are among the senior figures that have departed as Smith starts to put his stamp on the Headingley club.
The Australian's fingerprints were all over Saturday's thrilling performance in front of a national audience on Channel 4.
Super League could hardly have asked for a better advert to sell the sport.
The round six fixture had everything: silky skills, scintillating tries and human fallibility with some controversial calls thrown in for good measure.
For all his effort and industry, Blake Austin has yet to catch fire since joining the Rhinos from Warrington Wolves at the end of 2021.
On Saturday, the playmaker was virtually unplayable in his best performance in a Leeds shirt.
It was clear he was in the mood from the moment he found Rhyse Martin with a daring cross-field kick close to his own line to give the Rhinos the field position for their first try through Newman, one of the players Smith is building his team around.
The explosive centre made sure of the win with a second in the closing stages after combining with Richie Myler on a kick return to spark joyous scenes, just as Leeming and Hardaker had seven months earlier.
The personnel may have changed but Leeds remain committed to playing an entertaining brand of rugby when the situation allows.
Against Castleford in something resembling a mud bath they were neutralised; on a dry track at Headingley the Rhinos rediscovered their mojo.
Smith's side could have been forgiven for thinking it was not their day after making a series of errors in crucial moments in the first half.
Throw in the usually reliable Martin misplacing his kicking boots, a needless yellow card for Newman and it had the makings of another frustrating outing for Leeds.
Tom Davies demonstrated his athleticism to open the scoring for Catalans but, with Austin front and centre, the Rhinos hit back thanks to quickfire tries from Newman and Martin.
Had Newman picked up Aidan Sezer's dab through off his toes just short of the line, Leeds would have been in control; as it was, the Dragons took a firm grip on the contest.
Adam Keighran stormed over from May's defence-splitting pass as Catalans flexed their muscles before Mitchell Pearce benefited from a controversial video referee decision amid calls for a double movement.
After Myler and Zane Tetevano combined to bomb a try and Martin gifted Paul Seguier one at the other end with an ill-advised offload, Leeds only had themselves to blame as they set about overturning a 14-point half-time deficit.
Their cause was not helped by Newman's sin-binning for dissent – an area of his game he must tidy up – but that only served to spark the Rhinos into life.
Myler finished from Sezer's offload to give Leeds hope following a storming run by Austin and Jarrod O'Connor went over from dummy-half to make it two tries with 12 men.
Newman had a try ruled out for a foot in touch on his return but the Rhinos were soon celebrating their fifth, substitute Derrell Olpherts flying down the wing to score following a turnover near halfway.
A fifth Martin miss meant Leeds were still trailing by two points but the momentum was irreversible with the Dragons out on their feet.
Austin was the architect of the try that completed the comeback, the half-back nailing a 40/20 before sending Tom Holroyd over with a flat pass.
The noise inside Headingley reached fever pitch as Newman streaked away to put the result beyond doubt.
The fans were taken on a wild ride and they loved every minute of it as Leeds gave their season lift-off.