Leeds Rhinos: Carl Ablett, Kallum Watkins, Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Goals: Kevin Sinfield, 3/3. Zak Hardaker, 1/1.
Catalan Dragons: Sam Williams (2), Zeb Taia, Louis Anderson. Goals: Thomas Bosc, 4/4.
Sam Williams proved to be the match winner in a dramatic contest a as Catalan Dragons earned their first ever win at Headingley, putting an end Leeds’ hopes of a league and cup double in the process.
Carl Ablett opened the scoring for the Rhinos before Williams grabbed his first try of the day, but a converted Kallum Watkins try and Zak Hardaker’s penalty put the Challenge Cup holders 14-6 up at the break. Second half tries from Zeb Taia and Louis Anderson had Dragons ahead, only for Jamie Jones-Buchanan to cross for Leeds before Williams sealed it at the death, pouncing on a handling error by Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe with seconds to go.
The win means the men from the South of France will travel to Huddersfield on Friday after the Giants were dropped into an elimination play-off game following their 57-4 drubbing at Wigan. Meanwhile, defeat ended a disappointing Super League campaign for Leeds, who have failed to win a league match since July.
Despite their slump in form of late, Leeds, who have built a reputation as being play-off specialists in recent years, went ahead on 15 minutes when Danny McGuire moved the ball on to a charging Ablett, who thundered over from 20 metres.
Kevin Sinfield added the two points, but the Rhinos soon found themselves pinned back as some desperate defending was needed, most notably from Hardaker and back-rower Mitch Achurch, to keep Catalans at bay. Williams was one of those denied, but the on-loan St George Illawarra Dragons half-back linked up with captain Gregory Mounis to go over for his first try of the game.
Catalans conceded five penalties to one in the first half hour, meaning they couldn’t get a real foothold in the game and Hardaker kicked a two-pointer after a late challenge from Vincent Duport on Kevin Sinfield.
Then, Dream Team member Kallum Watkins struck on the hooter, twice hacking the ball ahead to score after Morgan Escaré knocked on, giving the home side a 14-6 lead at the break.
But the Dragons were not to be deterred and second-rower Taia jumped above Tom Briscoe to collect a high kick and score, before Anderson, lining up in the front row, powered on to a Williams pass and bumped off Hardaker to touch down. This latest effort put the French side ahead for the fist time with 20 minutes remaining.
Escaré went close for the Dragons, being denied while he was in full flight by a fine tackle from Hardaker, and the Rhinos hit back soon after, taking the lead again when Jones-Buchanan was put through by Sinfield. But this proved to a short-lived as Williams, who was impressive throughout, was gifted a late winner by Tom Briscoe’s crucial error.
WeLoveLeague Man of the Match: Sam Williams – controlled the game for long periods and deserved his two tries.