THINGS can quickly go wrong in sport. Just two weeks after their record-breaking Cup final triumph, Leeds Rhinos suddenly look like a team with the wheels coming off.
Losing to St Helens six days after Wembley was perhaps inevitable, but the manner of their 46-16 defeat at Catalans Dragons was as shocking as the result.
Leeds, who had won seven successive matches before the Saints reverse, looked low on energy and lacked attacking ideas until the final quarter, when Catalans had the game in their pocket. The visitors, who made the return trip to France on the day of the game, defended well for spells, but ensured they were under almost constant pressure with a series of calamitous errors.
Catalans had nothing to play for on the First Utility Super-8s table, but led 18-0 at half time and scored eight tries in total, with Scott Dureau converting five and Thomas Bosc and Jeff Lima adding a goal each.
Lima, a prop-forward and non-kicker, was allowed to take their final conversion, such was the scale of Leeds’s defeat, their worst since a 50-8 home embarrassment at Wigan’s hands in 2012.
If Leeds had started the game the way they finished, they would have given themselves a chance. It was 34-0 when Joel Moon put Ryan Hall over for their opening score, on the hour. Danny McGuire’s lovely finish from Adam Cuthbertson’s offload and a touchdown on the final play by Moon were further consolation. Kevin Sinfield played on after a first-half neck injury to land two goals on his 35th birthday.
But that was too little, too late. Inspired by stand-off Todd Carney, Catalans were never troubled.
Bosc, Krisnan Inu and Carney crossed in the first half and Bosc, Inu, Jordan Sigismeau, Lima and Elliott Whitehead added second half touchdowns.
Afterwards, Leeds coach Brian McDermott admitted it had been a “tough day”, but made an impassioned defence of his team’s spirit and desire.
“What I didn’t see was a group of blokes who don’t care or who turned it in,” he said. “I thought we again had a real crack. Clearly it wasn’t good enough and some things weren’t right, but there’s no lack of effort there.
“Every time we play I am really proud of them and I was really proud of the way we didn’t roll over. It could have been a 50 or 60 scoreline, but we wouldn’t let it be.”
Leeds remain top of the table, but now only on points difference from Wigan Warriors, with two games to play before the semi-finals.
Rhinos are sweating on the fitness of second row forward Jimmy Keinhorst, with an eye injury. He has suffered a suspected fracture to his eye socket and will see a specialist today.
Catalans Dragons: Escare, Bosc, Inu, Gigot, Sigismeau, Carney, Dureau, Elima, Henderson, Lima, Taia, Whitehead, Baitieri. Substitutes: Pelissier, Garcia, Bousquet, Maria.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Ablett, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Cuthbertson, Peacock, Achurch, S Ward, Delaney. Substitutes: Walters, Singleton, Lilley, Garbutt.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).