Catalans Dragons are no strangers to making rugby league history, but even by their standards what happens over the next fortnight could surpass even their own expectations. Having played just 12 league games all season due to the impact of Covid-19 – and the inevitable logistical issues which come from being based across the Channel – you always sensed the Dragons would be ready for the challenge of the play-offs.
How that proved to be the case. Their progression to within one win of a first Super League Grand Final was achieved largely in the first half, when they led 18-0 against a Leeds side who had lost key forwards, and have had a far rougher, tougher run into the play-offs than their opponents, who had played just once in five weeks due to a Covid outbreak at their own club, among other issues.
“I knew they were ready,” the Catalans coach, Steve McNamara, insisted after this victory. “We sensed from the moment we knew the play-offs started this week, they knew what we had to do.” How right he was. Tries from Tom Davies, Samisoni Langi and Israel Folau inside a blistering opening half-hour put the Dragons in control of the tie, with Sam Tomkins influential in all three tries.
“You can’t give yourselves an 18-point mountain to climb,” said Leeds’ director of rugby, Kevin Sinfield. The Rhinos were without their head coach, Richard Agar, who is self-isolating at home, but they were not short on spirit. They lost Mikolaj Oledzki and Ava Seumanufagai in the first half to injury, but Alex Sutcliffe’s try as half-time approached certainly gave them a fighting chance.
Those hopes were raised further when Liam Sutcliffe crossed shortly after the restart, but Catalans were able to quell further Leeds pressure and go three scores ahead again when David Mead picked off a Robert Lui pass, with James Maloney converting from the touchline to make it 24-10. And that, in truth, was always going to be too big a mountain for Leeds to overcome, though they were fortunate Michael McIlorum was not punished for an ugly challenge on Brad Dwyer beforehand.
The Rhinos, who will look back on 2020 with pride after winning the Challenge Cup, claimed a consolation through Konrad Hurrell, before a penalty from Maloney in the final minutes ensured it would be Catalans who will travel to St Helens next Friday to battle for a place in the Grand Final. On this showing, you would not bet against them creating yet more history.
Catalans S Tomkins; Davies, Langi, Folau, Mead; Maloney, Drinkwater; Casty, McIlorum, Bousquet, Whitley, J Tomkins, Garcia. Interchange Moa, Seguier, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Tries Davies, Langi, Folau, Mead Cons Maloney 5
Leeds Myler; Briscoe, Hurrell, L Sutcliffe, Handley; Lui, Gale; Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki, Thompson, Martin, Prior. Interchange Dwyer, Donaldson, Smith, A Sutcliffe.
Tries A Sutcliffe, L Sutcliffe, Hurrell Con Martin
Referee C Kendall.