Dragons relishing Rhinos test
Catalan Dragons have a glorious chance to demonstrate their title credentials when they take on reigning Stobart Super League champions Leeds Rhinos tomorrow night.
The French club, who are four points clear of the Rhinos after 11 rounds, will draw level with leaders Huddersfield Giants if they end their dismal record at Headingley.
The Dragons could even go top with victory by 18 points or more but they will need to transform their previous record to do so.
They have lost on all seven previous visits to Leeds going back to their formation in 2006 and have conceded a half-century of points on three of those occasions.
The Catalans, who have beaten every Super League team away from home apart from Leeds and newcomers Widnes Vikings, have probably never had a better chance to break their Headingley duck but coach Trent Robinson is anticipating another tough test.
“I’ve only been there the once,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s a good chance.
“We’re in pretty good form, although we’ll need to take our best footie on to the park at Leeds.
“In the last year and a half we’ve brought a bit of credibility to the club and the team but this is a test we probably haven’t passed yet in the competition.
“We want to do really well against Leeds and, if that means we go top, that’s good but we won’t be doing cartwheels.
“It would mean a lot to supporters and people at the club but less to the playing group.
“Leeds are not yet firing on all cylinders but they’re world champions and a class team - everybody wrote them off last year and look what happened. We’re preparing for a great Leeds performance.”
The Rhinos were also below the Catalans in the table ahead of their last meeting in Perpignan last July, when their fortunes hit rock bottom with a 38-18 defeat that briefly removed them from the top eight.
However, Leeds went on to lose just once more as they won the Grand Final from fifth place, and coach Brian McDermott is confident they can make a successful title defence, despite winning only one of their last four league games.
“We’re a million miles away from that type of form or that state of the team,” he said.
“While we’re not happy with where we are in the league at the moment, and we’ve just come off the back of some games where we haven’t been happy with how we’ve played, I think we’re in far better shape.
“And once we get our preferred 13 on the field, we’ve shown that we go really well this year. Our task at the moment is to keep getting our preferred 13 on the field and give them some game time.”
McDermott is set to give a debut to hooker Shaun Lunt, who joined the club on loan from Huddersfield this week, while the Dragons are hoping stand-off Leon Pryce and utility back Thomas Bosc overcome late fitness tests.
Bosc, who missed last Sunday’s 20-18 Challenge Cup win at Hull KR with an abductor injury, will go to full-back for what would be the 150th appearance of his career, 131 of which have come with the Dragons.
The match will also mark the 450th career appearance of Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield.
In tomorrow’s other game, Widnes will be aiming to start the way they finished last Saturday’s Challenge Cup tie against St Helens when the sides meet in Super League at Langtree Park.
Saints were in complete control, leading 40-16 after an hour, but were forced to hang on for victory when the Vikings took advantage of the 71st-minute sin-binning of James Roby to cut the deficit to just two points.
“I think we can take a bit of confidence out of our performance,” said Widnes coach Denis Betts.
“We saw a lift in enthusiasm, and if we can sustain that on our travels, we can keep pushing forward.”
St Helens will have home advantage this time and acting head coach Mike Rush, who was angered by his side’s lapses in concentration at the Stobart Stadium, is looking for them to make amends against their bottom-of-the-table opponents.
“It will be awkward facing the same team again as we helped them in the last nine minutes last weekend,” he said.
“For 71 minutes we were in control and then they ran over us. We were inches away from scoring on a couple of occasions and we should have put the game to bed early.
“We’ve had a couple of days to gather our thoughts and we will come back refreshed.”