THE slogan on a flag in the stand occupied by away fans at Stade Gilbert Brutus read ‘Leeds Rhinos for the love not the glory’.
Every deep relationship has its rocky moments and these are difficult times for the team and its supporters. The happy days seem a distant memory as Rhinos sit rock bottom of Super League having won only one of their opening eight matches.
They teased the travelling support in Perpignan, racing 12-0 and 16-6 ahead, before breaking their hearts yet again. The defeat may have been much closer than most predicted before the match, but it is not the despair that really hurts, it is the hope.
Rhinos have led in all but one of their defeats this year and been at least 10 points clear during three of those, so they do have it in them. However, maintaining their form for the full 80 minutes eludes them.
The wounds on Saturday were largely self-inflicted. Not for the first time this season, Rhinos looked like at least a half-decent team, in patches.
Early on they defended strongly and were clinical on attack, but for everything Rhinos get right in their current situation, at least a couple more go wrong.
In the nine minutes before half-time Leeds conceded four successive penalties and Catalans scored two tries to level the scores, at 16-16.
Six of Catalans points, two more than their margin of victory, came when Leeds were playing with 12 men, Brett Ferres having been sin -binned for coming in late with his knees on Matt Whitley, after he had been tackled on the last.
Rhinos were hammered seven-three in the first half penalty count and could feel aggrieved at that, but as so often happens, it evened up after the interval and finished 10-10. Leeds did not make the most of those opportunities, scoring only one try and a penalty in the final 40 minutes.
While Leeds’s left-edge scored all of their tries – a hat-trick for winger Ash Handley and one to his centre Konrad Hurrell – the right side were exposed, Catalans’ left-wing Fouad Yaha crossing four times. Though Kallum Watkins, back after two games out with bruising on the knee he had reconstructed last year, made some excellent one-on-one tackles, Tom Briscoe had a tough night under kicks.
Coach Dave Furner sprung a surprise by dropping stand-off Tui Lolohea, who was left in England and switching Liam Sutcliffe to the No 6 role, from the second-row. Sutcliffe had a strong game and his half-back partner Richie Myler, in his 300th career appearance, also had some very good moments.
He provided a couple of outstanding passes for tries and made several outstanding defensive interventions, but in the final moments hurled the ball into touch with tackles still in the bag.
Rhinos conceded two tries from acting-half close to their line, Yaha opening Dragons’ account and then Lucas Albert adding the equalising try in similar fashion. Good, confident, teams do better than that.
At a time in the first half when Leeds were on top, Catalans introduced their new star signing Sam Kasiano, brought in from Melbourne Storm. He is a big man who runs hard and has skill as well. Leeds would not be where they are if they had somebody of that ilk in their squad and he gave the hosts a huge lift.
Rhinos were due to be the final English opponents to visit Perpignan before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Brexit may be delayed, but Lexit is becoming an increasing possibility. Relegation for the eight-time champions may be unthinkable, but they are already more than a quarter of their way into the season and their next win remains elusive. They can, however, take some heart from Catalans who were in a similar hole a year ago, yet stuck to their guns and came good in spectacular fashion, finishing seventh in Super League and winning the Challenge Cup.
Sam Tomkins converted three of their five tries and Sutcliffe booted three goals for Rhinos.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Yaha, Langi, Wiliame, Tierney, Gigot, M Smith, Casty, Albert, Bousquet, Edwards, Whitley, Goudemand. Substitutes: Da Costa, Maria, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, T Briscoe, Watkins, Hurrell, Handley, L Sutcliffe, Myler, Peteru, Dwyer, Oledzki, C Smith, Ferres, Merrin. Substitutes: Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Holroyd.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).