Catalans Dragons and Leeds Rhinos have a long history when it comes to play-off rugby. A history filled with dramatic twists and turns, superb stories and rememberable rugby though their battles are not the ones most commonly contemplated by fans and pundits when it comes to reminiscing about the play-offs – the most wonderful time of the year for Super League fans.
Their play-off history goes back to 2009 when the Rhinos selected the Dragons in the controversial club call. Leeds subsequently secured their Old Trafford spot with a 27-20 win over the French side on their way to a threepeat. That score line would emerge again in 2012 when Leeds arrived in France to topple the fourth place Dragons on route to another Grand Final appearance. However, Catalans would gain a measure of revenge with a week one win over Leeds at Headingley – their first ever at the ground – to end Leeds’ 2014 title bid before they met most recently in 2020 where Catalans again downed the Rhinos.
That was the second fourth v fifth play-off clash between the two after their 2012 meeting and tomorrow’s game will be the third time they’ve met with Catalans as the favourites in fourth and Leeds as dangerous underdogs in fifth. Both sides will fancy their chances at returning to the Theatre of Dreams but the saga around Rhyse Martin’s ban has certainly added to the story. But the question remains: which side will continue on the road to Old Trafford and who will begin planning for 2023 early than hoped?
Catalans have recalled their first teamers after they were rested for the defeat to Wigan. It remains to be seen whether the one star who played that game – try scorer Josh Drinkwater – has done enough to return to the Dragons’ strongest 17. Sam Tomkins is fit to play whilst Mike McMeeken is back as well. The Dragons have 13 of the 17 who played in last year’s Grand Final available.
The Rhinos have been dealt some significant blows this week. Ash Handley has fractured a bone in his foot which will see him miss the rest of the season unless Leeds make it to the Grand Final. Rhyse Martin joins him on the side lines denied a shot at setting a new Super League record for most consecutive goal kicks without missing. At least Brad Dwyer should be fit after a knee injury against Castleford and Harry Newman is back in the squad though it remains unlikely that he’ll play with many vigorous checks standing in his way when it comes to a return. The likes of David Fusitu’a and Tom Holroyd are still absent.
Match Preview – Key Battles:
Sam Tomkins vs Richie Myler: Two men who burst onto the scene are similar times as lively halfbacks who are now potent attacking weapons at fullback with bags of experience will meet hoping to guide their team to glory at the end of their careers. The reigning Man of Steel Sam Tomkins has had a difficult year but there’s no one you’d rather have in your side at the business end of the year. Meanwhile, myler has been in stunning form and has been Leeds’ most consistent source of tries recently.
Mitchell Pearce vs Aidan Sezer: Once upon a time this would have been a battle in the NRL finals, now we’re blessed to see them battle in Super League. Both have had interesting seasons with some significant high points though neither have truly earnt rave reviews. But it is on a stage like this that the two should excel.
Michael McIlorum vs Kruise Leeming: The Leeds born hooker takes on the man who skippers his home town team in a battle that could have a huge impact on who Shaun Wane selects for the World Cup. Two very different nines with McIlorum solid as a rock and Leeming lively and dangerous.
Where the game will be won and lost:
Looking at the squads, Catalans will be able to rely upon their usual strength which is down the middle. Usually this wouldn’t bother Leeds too much with the Rhinos very much like a sponge under Rohan Smith capable of absorbing pressure and getting up the other end despite this. However, the absence of their first choice wingers who are so key in getting Leeds up the field will be a telling blow and may force Leeds to be even more on the backfoot which should sway things Catalans’ way.
Score Prediction: Catalans Dragons 26-12 Leeds Rhinos