Rearranged following the big freeze this spring, Wednesday night sees the reigning Super League champions host Catalans at Headingley as both teams search for what could prove to be a pivotal victory.
Despite a remarkable performance last time out against league leaders St Helens, the one point defeat still left the Rhinos searching for a first Super League victory since their April defeat of Hull KR. What Friday night showed, however, was the steel and commitment in this Leeds outfit and, despite the large number of absentees, the quality in the squad was evident – including in youngster Harry Newman, making his debut for the club after spending the majority of this season at dual-registration partners Featherstone. A familiar face of his is likely to join him in the Rhinos’ three quarter line tonight following Leeds’ loan signing of former player Luke Briscoe from Rovers. Believed to have been signed simply to cover the international absence of consistent Ryan Hall on the left flank, the 24-year-old is set to line up on the opposite wing to brother Tom.
Ashton Golding and Mikolaj Oledski are in contention to be involved in the crunch match, the latter only ten days after a collision with Stevie Ward which led to the Polish-born youngster leaving proceedings in the 25-18 home defeat to Huddersfield on a stretcher. Despite the injury initially looking awful, he is set to return against the French outfit but Ward is still absent with concussion. Alongside the back rower, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Brad Singleton, Kallum Watkins, Richie Myler, Jordan Lilley, Brett Delaney, Jimmy Keinhorst and Nathaniel Peteru are all still absent for the club.
However, if the Rhinos perform with the same quality and commitment as they did in defeat against Saints, they should have just about enough to beat the Dragons. One of the bright sparks for Leeds was the performance of Brad Dwyer from the bench, the former Warrington hooker having arguably his best game in a Rhinos shirt thus far – his performance should be good enough to keep Ashton Golding out of the seventeen for one more week as Leeds are highly likely to field the same seventeen barring Briscoe and Oledski’s returns with fellow youngster Tom Holroyd likely to be the man to miss out.
For the travelling French, Fouad Yaha is set to return to the fold for the Dragons in their only change from their narrow defeat to Huddersfield last week. Following an abysmal start to the campaign, Steve McNamara’s Catalans team have been resurgent in recent weeks and have impressed, winning four of their last six Super League matches – including victory over the Rhinos in the reverse fixture last month. Tony Gigot has been highly impressive for the club since his return to the fold and their upturn in form has also coincided with the signing of Josh Drinkwater. Initially brought in as something of a stopgap until the end of the campaign following Luke Walsh’s retirement, the Australian has impressed in Dragons colours and looks to have fit into their system seamlessly. Boasting a ferocious pack – including club captain Remi Casty and recent NRL acquisition Kenny Edwards – the Rhinos will have to be at their very best to win the forward battle. Whoever wins that battle will have given their team a huge chance of victory.
Currently sitting in seventh place, Leeds are only three points ahead of their visitors – Catalans currently sit ninth in the league ladder. That said, the magnitude of a victory for either team today is clear; the hosts can hold off the threat of slipping into the Qualifiers for a second time in three years by boosting their cushion to five points while the Dragons will be looking to heap the pressure on Brian McDermott’s men by handing another defeat to the eight-time Super League winners.
Leeds Rhinos squad: Golding, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Moon, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Dwyer, Mullally, Garbutt, Ferres, Handley, Walker, Lilley, Newman, Smith, Oledzki, Walters, Holroyd, Ormondroyd
Catalans Dragons squad: Mead, Wiliame, Yaha, Langi, Casty, Moa, Anderson, Garcia, Bird, Bousquet, Simon, Duport, Baitieri, McIlorum, Tierney, Jullien, Gigot, Drinkwater, Edwards