EIGHT-TIME champions Leeds Rhinos have had many better wins during the summer era, but few more precious than their 48-22 success against Toulouse Olympique in the opening round of the Qualifiers.
It was only their second victory in 10 games and got their fight against relegation off to a positive start. Defeat would have been a disaster for Leeds and they did endure some anxious moments either side of half-time, but director of rugby Kevin Sinfield felt coming through a tough game will be good for his struggling team’s confidence.
Leeds visit another Championship outfit, London Broncos, on Sunday and two more points would edge them closer to safety before they face Super League opposition for the first time.
Rhinos will have to play better, but there were encouraging signs, particularly in the first and final quarters of a game which was more tense than the final score suggests.
“I’m pleased,” said Sinfield.
“I thought we played some really good stuff in patches
“We need to get those patches to be for longer periods, but I thought Toulouse had a real go.
“They are a dangerous side and when they came back at us at the end of that first half I did get a little bit concerned.
“The offloads they were playing and some of the long balls and kicks ricochetting left right and centre, they caused us some problems.
“Thankfully we were able to stick in there, especially at the start of the second half.
“It was a real challenge for our guys and it’s great to see us some through.”
Sinfield added: “I am really pleased to get a win, it has been a while.
“It’s nice to start this campaign off on the right foot, especially given the other results this weekend.”
At 20-4 ahead after 28 minutes Rhinos were in command and apparently on course to a big win, but too often this year their heads have dropped when something goes against them.
In the final eight minutes of the opening period Rhinos conceded two converted tries and rather than going into the break with the game in the bag, they led by only four points and nerves were jangling.
One of those tries was a freak. Johnathon Ford’s kick, aimed at touch, bounced off Tom Briscoe’s backside, was hacked on by Paul Marcon, hit a post – as Ryan Hall was about to collect – and touched down by Bassier Ader.
Rhinos were rattled and with two minutes left in the half Maxime Puech went over from William Barthau’s pass and Mark Khierallah converted the second and third tries to make it 20-16.
Seb Robin dropped the ball with the line at his mercy, in front of the posts, early in the second half when a converted try would have edged the visitors in front, but Leeds regained control after that.
Brad Dwyer dummied over from acting-half on 55 minutes, Richie Myler stretched through from Dwyer’s pass and then set up a try for Adam Cuthbertson and Carl Ablett, playing at stand-off, went over off Dwyer’s offload.
Chris Centrone scored a deserved consolation try for Toulouse, improved by Khierallah, but Ashton Golding scored on the final play of the game and Liam Sutcliffe’s goal rounded off an ultimately convincing win.
Earlier, Rhinos opened the scoring through Dwyer and though Bastien Canet replied, Joel Moon crossed twice and Myler also touched down to establish what should have been a dominant advantage. Rhinos’ next opponents finished above third-placed Toulouse on points difference and beat Super League side Widnes Vikings last Thursday.
Sinfield said: “We’re looking forward to it, going up against a really dangerous side.
“We will have a look at them this week, but it will be a tough one for us.
“We will prepare well this week and look forward to going down there.
“We are a good side. I think people have forgotten that.
“We played well in patches and the boys will take confidence from that.”
Rhinos are likely to be without Ryan Hall who suffered a knee injury which, if serious, could end his Leeds career.
Leeds Rhinos: L Sutcliffe, T. Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, Hall, Ablett, Myler, Singleton, Dwyer, Crosby, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Golding, Mullally, Peteru, Oledzki.
Toulouse Olympique: Kheirallah, Marcon, Centrone, Ader, Maurel, Ford, Barthau, Bretherton, Marion, Rapira, Canet, Mika, Boyer. Substitutes: Robin, Puech, Hepi, Pettybourne.
Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).