This is a game, although Rohan Smith won’t admit it, that Leeds simply have to win.
A victory would see Leeds seal a third consecutive win for the first time this season and heap the pressure onto the teams around them in the race for a play-off spot which certainly seemed unlikely a few weeks ago.
The Rhinos finally have some momentum and they need to press home their advantage in the race for the top six and only a win can do that.
However, the heat and Toulouse’s brilliant home form will make this more than a challenge despite their standing in the league. Meanwhile, the fact that Toulouse now have a tangible hope of survival following victory over Wakefield and are also chasing a third consecutive win only adds a bit more spice to this fixture.
As does the many absentees Rohan Smith will have to juggle which has prompted Leeds to dip into the loan market for the first tine this season with the acquisition of Yusuf Aydin.
So, the script is written but who will it be performed by the star cast in France?
Rohan Smith has Leeds playing with a real freedom which has been a joy to watch in recent weeks. Leeds play every play for what it’s worth making them more of a threat throughout the set and not just on specific tackles when plays are set as was the case earlier this year.
This philosophy has wider benefits which are easily missed. Over the last two weeks Leeds have faced packs which are bigger than theirs especially with the number of bans plaguing the Rhinos middles.
However, Leeds have had huge success in rolling them down field even against Castleford without Kruise Leeming who can often be attributed with speeding up things to tire out opposition props.
Leeds have become very adept at pulling the play wider before arrowing back on the side. Think about recent wins namely against Warrington and Castleford. In both, one go to play was shifting the play wide enabling James Bentley and the right centre to arc back inside dragging the forwards out before yanking them back in which would be tiring at the best of times and especially in the heat expected.
This ball movement in general will only serve to tire Toulouse it’s just paramount it comes off otherwise they’ll heap pressure on themselves.
Leeds have lost Aidan Sezer and Matt Prior this week to compound the loss of Blake Austin and Kruise Leeming last week. I also firmly expect Zak Hardaker to miss the game with a thigh injury.
So, what does this mean for the team? Well I’d say the key to predicting this team is understanding what will happen to Richie Myler. If Smith wants Myler’s experience in the halves to protect Jack Sinfield then there will be a re-jig in the backs.
Of course, if Hardaker is fit, this is nice and simple otherwise we could see either Ash Handley, Liam Sutcliffe or David Fusitu’a at fullback with either Liam Tindall or Max Simpson coming into the backline.
Should Myler remain at fullback, Jack Sinfield will join Corey Johnson in the halves in a very inexperienced but exciting halfback pairing.
Should Hardaker be injured, I don’t think Smith would immediately through Simpson into the deep end instead opting for Rhyse Martin at centre with Morgan Gannon coming into the backrow with Bodene Thompson’s return allowing him to fill the gap Gannon would leave on the bench.
As for replacing Prior, I’d like to see Sam Walters start at prop for the first time although it could be Thompson starting there as well after plenty of experience in the role this season. James Donaldson is also an option.
Yusuf Aydin will surely debut from the bench.
Ultimately, assuming Hardaker is injured Smith will have to play one of young trio Tindall, Simpson or Sinfield. The question would be who?
16 Richie Myler
2 David Fusitu’a
12 Rhyse Martin
4 Liam Sutcliffe
5 Ash Handley
26 Corey Johnson
32 Jack Sinfield
8 Mikolaj Oledzki
24 Jarrod O’Connor
22 Sam Walters
11 James Bentley
21 Morgan Gannon
17 Cameron Smith
14 Brad Dwyer
19 Bodene Thompson
25 James Donaldson
34 Yusuf Aydin
Despite the absentees I still look at that 17 and see enough quality to get what would be a hard thought and entertaining win in France.
Richie Myler would need to shine of course but his recent form would suggest as much. If he can get Leeds turning possession into points, Leeds have a good chance at claiming a third win on the bounce.
Toulouse Olympique 22-32 Leeds Rhinos