The big games keep on coming for Leeds and that will be the case all the way up until the end of the season now that the Rhinos are in the hunt for a play-off spot which at some stage looked very unlikely.
The Rhinos have games against fellow sixth spot chasers Salford and Hull KR to look forward to, a battle against fifth place Castleford at Headingley as well as a tussle with Warrington at home alongside three games against current occupants of the top four with this being one of them.
For the second time in three weeks, Rohan Smith’s men are over in France this time to take on Catalans knowing that later in the season they will have to repeat this trip following a short turn around.
So, getting a win here against a Dragons side missing a few key forwards is a must in the play-off race.
But just how likely is a first win over Catalans away since 2017?
Much of the disadvantage you’d expect Leeds to have has been diminished through Catalans’ own injury problems. Like Leeds, Catalans are missing a number of key forwards which should make them slightly less dominant in the middle especially with Matt Prior back from a ban.
This means Leeds will be able to manage the middle third in the heat in France much more. Don’t be surprised to see Rohan Smith adopt a similar approach to wins over Warrington and Wigan here by sometimes sitting off the Dragons to enable them to cover wide with relative ease backing their back three to mop up any kicks and get Leeds going in the right direction.
With both of Catalans’ first choice front rows absent, the Rhinos may want to attack this area especially given the recent success Rhyse Martin and James Bentley have had in terms of tries but also Leeds’ pet play of dropping centres off inside which could see Harry Newman and Liam Sutcliffe cause problems for Benjamin Jullien and Joe Chan.
In general, expect Leeds to spread the play and open up holes often pushing up back down the middle.
They say don’t change a winning team, but when that winning team had a loose-forward at scrum-half, I see no danger in drafting in a natural number seven especially the way Aidan Sezer has found form recently.
His return will enable Cameron Smith to return to loose-forward with James Donaldson replacing the departed Yusuf Aydin on the bench.
The other returnee for Leeds is Matt Prior who will join Mikolaj Oledzki in the front row as Bodene Thompson drops to the bench with Muizz Mustapha likely to miss out despite his try last week.
There is one doubt, other than that of the returning Sezer, in the shape of David Fusitu’a. The fact that Leeds have allowed Liam Tindall to join Bradford suggests that he’s okay, though a late withdrawal could see Zak Hardaker move to the wing, Richie Myler to fullback and perhaps Cameron Smith sticking it out in the halves.
Likewise, should Sezer not quite be fit for the fixture, Smith will remain in the halves unless Rohan Smith wants to give minutes to 17-year-old Jack Sinfield.
33 Zak Hardaker
2 David Fusitu’a
3 Harry Newman
4 Liam Sutcliffe
5 Ash Handley
16 Richie Myler
7 Aidan Sezer
8 Mikolaj Oledzki
24 Jarrod O’Connor
10 Matt Prior
11 James Bentley
12 Rhyse Martin
17 Cameron Smith
14 Brad Dwyer
19 Bodene Thompson
21 Morgan Gannon
25 James Donaldson
This is going to be a tough one as it always is in France especially against the Dragons. However, if there was ever a time to beat the Dragons, then this weekend might be it with them also having to deal with a number of absentees including skipper Ben Garcia as well as some other key forwards.
The Dragons aren’t all that free scoring in 2022 either, so should Leeds match them in the middle then the Rhinos improved attack under Rohan Smith could light the way to victory.
Catalans Dragons 20-30 Leeds Rhinos