Aaron Sutcliffe previews the Super League elimination play-off tie between the Catalans Dragons and the Leeds Rhinos at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. This is what we have to look forward to.
The Dragons have won three of their last four Super League matches, which included a comfortable win against a depleted Leeds side, but they were beaten by the Salford Red Devils in their last outing.
The Rhinos have struggled for consistency since winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley a month ago, with heavy defeats to St Helens and Wakefield Trinity. But they avenged their defeat to the Dreadnoughts with a narrow victory last time out.
Steve McNamara has Matt Whitley, Joel Tomkins, and Jason Baitieri at his disposal again after all three players missed the game at Salford.
That means Benjamin Jullien, Lucas Albert, and Arthur Romano all sit out the first week of play-off action.
Catalans’ squad: Mead, Langi, Folau, Yaha, Maloney, Drinkwater, Casty, McIlorum, Moa, Whitley, J. Tomkins, Garcia, Bousquet, Simon, Davies, Goudemand, Seguier, Baitieri, Mourgue, Kasiano, S. Tomkins
Richard Agar welcomes back Matt Prior, Konrad Hurrell, Tom Briscoe, and Richie Myler after all four players were self-isolating for the last fortnight due to track-and-trace protocols.
However, they will be without Alex Mellor who begins the first of his two-game suspension with Adam Cuthbertson, Tom Holroyd, and Harry Newman all still sidelined.
Leeds squad: Walker, T. Briscoe, Hurrell, Handley, Lui, Gale, Seumanufagai, Leeming, Prior, Martin, Dwyer, L. Sutcliffe, Myler, Oledzki, Thompson, Evans, Smith, Donaldson, A. Sutcliffe, Harrison, Ferres
The two sides met in late September with Catalans running out 34-6 winners thanks to a hat-trick of tries from Tom Davies against a youthful Leeds side at Headingley.
Ash Handley currently leads the way in the try-scoring charts with 14, having also run more metres with the ball than any other player in Super League.
Davies (with 12 tries) is in close pursuit of the Leeds winger, while James Maloney is third in the goal kicking charts.
BATTLE TO WATCH
As mentioned above, the two players to watch out for on Friday night will be Davies and Handley: blink and you’ll miss them.
The battle in the centres should also be an intriguing one as well, with Israel Folau coming up against the returning Konrad Hurrell.
With his game time likely to be restricted at Wigan, Davies made a big call by deciding to head to France in the off-season and it’s certainly paid off, scoring 12 tries in just eight league appearances.
He’s looked more comfortable in the Dragons side, carrying over his impressive scoring rate for the Warriors; he’s formed a deadly partnership with the former Australia international Folau.
Handley has impressed again on the wing for Leeds this season and scored two tries in their Challenge Cup final win at Wembley, linking up well with Tonga international Hurrell.
The 24-year-old has a superb record for the Rhinos and has been rewarded for his efforts this season with a place in Shaun Wane’s latest England squad looking ahead to next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Date: Friday, November 13
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium