Two of last year’s semi-finalist do battle tomorrow having enjoyed lukewarm starts to the 2022 campaign. The Rhinos are yet to win a game losing to both Warrington and Wigan whilst Catalans edged Wakefield last week to claim their first win after a disappointing showing in the Grand Final rematch against St Helens.
So, both teams will be desperate for a win after not exactly living up to expectations in the first two rounds, after all these two teams were seen as two of the major threats to St Helens’ crown this term.
But, with squads hit by injury and suspension, which side will generate some momentum after sluggish starts.
Leeds are still without James Bentley through suspension as well as David Fusitu’a, Harry Newman, Richie Myler, Tom Holroyd and Sam Walters through injury whilst Rhyse Martin is still away on compassionate leave. There are also doubts hanging over Ash Handley and Cameron Smith after both were withdrawn against Wigan owing to hip and back injuries. Their potential absence may mean we see Jack Broadbent and Jarrod O’Connor for the first time this season.
As for the Dragons, they’re still without some of their finest forwards. Dylan Napa and Gil Dudson are still suspended whilst Mickael Goudemand has joined Julian Bousquet in the treatment room leaving Steve McNamara with limited options at prop. There’s still no Arthur Mourgue through injury.
Aidan Sezer vs Mitchell Pearce: NRL rivals in the past, both have struggled to really grab the headlines at their new clubs in the opening two rounds. Aidan Sezer started 2022 magnificently running the show against Warrington before things hit a wall for him at Wigan. A great organiser, and capable of structuring attack masterfully, if we see Sezer at his best Catalans could struggle to deal with Leeds’ offence. That being said, Mitchell Pearce is a very capable organiser himself and if he gets a foothold in the contest, he could boss the fixture.
Blake Austin vs Josh Drinkwater: Joining Sezer and Pearce in the halves are two players who often excel when given the freedom to do so by their halfback partners. No player registered more assists than Drinkwater last year on the back of James Maloney’s good work. Now alongside Pearce, he will be hoping to shine once more. As for Austin, he crowned his Leeds debut with a try last week but that’s as good as it got for the Rhinos at Wigan. Having enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Sezer in the past, Leeds will be hoping to see the pair at their best.
Mikolaj Oledzki v Sam Kasiano: Intriguingly, Mikolaj Oledzki has started the last two games on the bench having been a regular starter in 2021 and 2020. The England international is at times unstoppable and running at tired defences makes him all the more formidable after all that’s what makes Sam Kasiano so destructive. The prop who has the bigger impact off the bench could turn the match in their team’s favour.
Where the match will be won and lost:
Catalans’ success has been built on the back of a powerful pack but their first choice props and even some of their best backups are unavailable once again for this clash. Meanwhile, Leeds’ impressive pack is mostly intact so you’d expect Leeds to steal a march down the middle of the field.
That being said, Leeds did that against Warrington and repeated the feat against Wigan for much of the first half and came up with very little. They need to find a way of consistently scoring especially now creative spark Richie Myler is out for three months. If they continue to struggle to cross the whitewash despite relative dominance, I can see them winding up with three defeats from three.
Prediction: Leeds Rhinos 6-20 Catalans Dragons