by Ashley Pemberton
A late Danny McGuire drop goal sealed a pulsating affair 27-20 at the Stade Gilbert Brutus to put Leeds 80 minutes from Old Trafford.
With the clock ticking down and the Rhinos clinging on to a six point lead, the Catalans defence rushed to close down Kevin Sinfield in expectation of a drop goal, but the Leeds captain coolly found Danny McGuire stood deep at second receiver. The scrum half dropped the ball onto his right foot to connect with his first one-pointer for six years despite the pressure from the defenders.
The victory puts Leeds into the hat for Sundays Club Call with the winners of tomorrows clash between Warrington and Hull to travel to either Wigan or St Helens.
A full-blooded affair took its toll on both sides as Leeds used all 10 interchanges after just 70 minutes while Catalans lost prop David Ferriol through injury as both packs participated in a brutal war in Perpignan.
Kevin Sinfield’s contribution to the Rhinos’ cause was not limited to attack, as the captain put in a big shift in defence, chasing his own kicks and putting his body on the line to stop the big Catalans forwards that ran at him all game.
The hosts bid a fond farewell to coach Trent Robinson after the game, who leaves the Super League to take the Sydney Roosters job, but it is the men from West Yorkshire who will be partying tonight as they return home victorious.
Clint Greenshields notched his 85th try in Catalans colours to open the scoring when he sold a dummy to three would-be defenders and crashed over from short range. Video referee Phil Bentham ruled that he wasn’t held and therefore his touch down was legal, despite the protests from the Leeds players for a double movement.
Leeds then had a try ruled out when Kalum Watkins was ruled by video referee Bentham to have taken out Thomas Bosc in the build up to Ben Jones-Bishop’s touch down in the corner.
A tense forward battle ensued as the first half wore on and Catalans looked to hold onto their lead. Both sides swapped good field position, but while neither side could claim full dominance up front, Catalans looked the more likely to cross. Resolute defending from Brian McDermott’s men kept the Dragons out before a dramatic final five minutes of the half.
Stevie Ward levelled the scores when Leeds made a spell of pressure count after being gifted possession in Catalans’ territory from the hosts’ ill-discipline. Shaun Lunt jumped out of dummy half on the last tackle and committed Louis Anderson before slipping a perfectly timed pass to the 18 year old Ward to dive over. Kevin Sinfield’s conversion took the Rhinos into the lead.
The reigning champions struck again immediately after when Rob Burrow’s neat ‘no look’ pass put Jamie Jones-Buchanan through the defensive line for the big back rower to break from deep in his own half before drawing the full back Greenshields and releasing the supporting Lunt to romp home under the sticks for an easy conversion for skipper Sinfield.
Damien Blanch burst Leeds’ ever growing bubble right on the stroke of half-time, however, when he intercepted Danny McGuire’s attempted cut out pass and raced away for a spectacular 100 metre score. Dureau’s conversion on the buzzer took the half-time score line to 12-10 to the Rhinos.
The second half began how the first ended, with end-to-end action and high skill factor plays from both sides.
The breathtaking opening was punctuated by Damien Blanch’s second try after Catalans were gifted field position from two quick-fire Danny McGuire penalties. The half back first kicked the ball away in anger and was pinned for dissent by Ben Thaler before his swinging arm made contact with Louis Anderson’s head after Kevin Sinfield’s bone shaker of a tackle on the big Kiwi. From the gifted territory, the Dragons promoted the off-load and Scott Dureau’s pin-point accurate chip to the corner was gratefully collected and touched down by the Irish international. Dureau’s conversion attempt agonisingly hit the post.
Catalans promoted the ball from deep and made two breaks, one from Blanch and one from Greenshields who skipped through the defence, but twice they were bundled into touch as the Loiners defended desperately to keep within touching distance of the hosts on the scoreboard.
A bit of needle that had been simmering throughout the game boiled over as both packs came together for a bit of push-and-shove and players went shooting out of the defensive line looking for the big shot on their opposite number.
As the Catalans forwards began to show signs of fatigue, Leeds started to spend more time in their half and look increasingly dangerous. The Dragons finally buckled when Kevin Sinfield dropped into dummy half and poked a little grubber into the in-goal area for Carl Ablett to pounce upon.
From the kick off, Ryan Bailey rampaged through the tired home defence and broke down field before rounding Greenshields and bumping Henderson off before releasing to McGuire to romp home for an easy touch down.
A short kick off saw the Dragons regain possession and go on the attack. After more niggling in the tackle, they were awarded a penalty and took advantage of the repeat set of six by promoting the ball. Two neat inside balls saw Thomas Bosc hit a gap and dive over for a vital try to reduce the deficit to just four points with ten minutes on the clock after Dureau’s conversion.
Two penalties in quick succession by Fakir – first, a raised elbow on Brett Delaney then a high tackle on Burrow – gifted Leeds a penalty in front of the sticks, which Kevin Sinfield coolly slotted over to take their lead to six points with the clock ticking down.
Catalans threw everything they had at Leeds in the final few minutes but could not break the Rhinos. Scott Dureau scampered from dummy half down the blind side and tried a chip over the top which went out on the full, gifting the Rhinos field position from which McGuire slotted the winning goal.
Catalans: Greenshields, Blanch, Sa, Duport, Millard, Bosc, Dureau, Ferriol, Henderson, Casty, Menzies, Anderson, Baitieri
Replacements: Mounis, Paea, Pryce, Fakir
T: Greenshields, Blanch 2, Bosc
G: Dureau 2
Leeds: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Kirke, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey
Replacements: Clarkson, Griffin, Ward, Lunt
T: Ward, Lunt, Ablett, McGuire
G: Sinfield 5
Referee: Ben Thaler
RLFANS Man of the Match: Kevin Sinfield (Leeds)