During the Friday Night Elimination Play-off showdown, Catalan Dragons put on an impressive display to book their place in the Super League Semi-Finals.
It was an incident-packed and at times niggly affair but Catalan were worthy winners and Leeds were made to pay after being outclassed during the first half.
Catalan drew first blood just over a minute into the game as Sam Tomkins displayed a trademark piece of quick thinking and guile to make an audacious break out of nothing from acting half; he didn’t quite have the pace to go the distance but the supporting Tom Davies was on hand to finish it off. The veteran Maloney landed the conversion from wide out. 6-0.
Tomkins was the architect of Catalans’ second try six minutes later, producing a well-weighted attacking grubber kick for Samisoni Langi to touch down under pressure. Maloney was on target again with the boot. 12-0.
Catalan had the lion share of field position during the first half and were making that count with the clinical attacking execution their strike players are capable of.
Their third try came just before the half hour mark as Tomkins sent up a dangerous up and under kick which Israel Folau, a master in this area of the game, claimed and had enough power to wrestle his way through a couple of Leeds defenders to touch down. Maloney converted once again and it was looking ominous for Leeds. 18-0.
Leeds scored a much-needed try on the stroke of halftime as some astute work from Richie Myler and Liam Sutcliffe, put Luke Gale clean through, and the supporting Alex Sutcliffe just had to time his run which he did and finished close to the uprights. Gale added the extras. 18-6 at halftime.
Eight minutes into the second half the Rhinos struck again as some slightly suspect Catalan slide defence and a well-timed Gale pass created a large overlap and Liam Sutcliffe was the man to dot down in the corner, benefitting from an impressive ball from Matt Prior. Gale was off target with a challenging conversion attempt. 18-10.
The match-sealing try seventeen minutes from time was the most agonising of sucker-punches as Robert Lui attempted to create a break on the short side inside his own half, but could only find Catalans’ David Mead, who then had enough strength and tenacity to wrestle his way through the clutches of Konrad Hurrell and less surprisingly had the speed to race over in the corner. Maloney was on form with the boot and nailed another touchline conversion. 24-10.
Leeds were outclassed and outpowered on the night but showed plenty of courage and collective perseverance, scoring what proved to be a consolation try through Hurrell after the ball went through several sets of hands in off-the-cuff circumstances as the Rhinos desperately kept it alive and an overlap was eventually inflicted and exploited. 24-14. Maloney added a penalty shortly before the final hooter as Catalan made it to only their third ever Semi Final, the other two being 2008 and 2014.
Steve McNamara might have to reshuffle slightly next week following the incidents involving Joel Tomkins and Michael McIlorum that arguably both should have resulted in red cards but nevertheless the Dragons go into their Semi-Final with Saints full of momentum, confidence and despite being clear underdogs for that upcoming contest they have the quality and firepower to hurt any Super League side if they have the right mentality, approach and focus.
It was a disappointing night for Leeds who may have felt a little bit aggrieved Catalan weren’t reduced to twelve men during the second half but overall could have very little complaints with the result. They have improved as a side on last season but still have an undoubtedly long way to go before re-establishing themselves as one of the competition’s strongest sides.