The Leeds Rhinos marched into a third successive Grand Final with a hard fought 27-20 victory over brave Catalans Dragons outfit.
Leeds outlasted a defiant Dragons outfit thanks to a Kevin Sinfield drop goal and three tries in five minutes at the end of the first half, which was just enough to see them survive a second half rally that brought the Dragons agonisingly close to over turning the 22-4 half time deficit.
Catalans Dragons started like a team full of confidence, forcing the Rhinos onto the back foot for most of the opening ten minutes. But it was the Rhinos who came closest to taking the lead, Danny McGuire just losing control of the ball as he stretched out for the line.
And Dimitri Pelo’s needed every ounce of pace to chase back and halt Brent Webb on the 20 after he intercepted close to his own line. That delayed the Rhinos only for a moment. A penalty for intererence took them into the Dragons 20. From there McGuire’s dummy and step was enough to crack the back-peddling Dragons defence wide open. Kevin Sinfield converted.
But McGuire was soon brought back to earth. His error in capturing the restart gifted a scrum head and feed to the Dragons. And from the scrum base the French whipped the ball to the right corner where Adam Mogg’s long pass found Vincent DuPort striding in at the corner to make it 6-4.
The French forwards were taking no backwards steps Raguin’s drive to the line took three Rhinos defenders to halt, but the big centre made a hash of the play the ball as the Dragons squandered another chance to take the lead.
They paid the price for that profligacy too. Ryan Hall crossing for two tries at the left corner inside two minutes to extend the home lead to 16-4 as half time approached.
McGuire capped a storming end to the first stanza, collecting Scott Donald’s crossfield kick in midfield to race in for his second try of the game. Sinfield’s conversion made it 22-4.
Donald and DuPort exchanged tries at the start of the second half.
When DuPort burst clear to add his hat trick try on 55 minutes, the French began once again to hope, with Bosc’s conversion narrowing the gap to 26-14.
With pressure building on their line the Rhinos came up with an error, a high tackle on the pesky Mogg who had tormented them all night. But the home defence proved resilient enough to see of the Dragons and march to the other end of the field.
A Sinfield drop goal underlined their nervousness, whist also edging them three scores clear.
And Mogg’s 73rd minute try by the posts, converted by Bosc closed the gap to 27-20 as the Dragons continued to pound the home line.
Although time finally ran out on the French, they left a lasting impression on the Leeds Rhinos, who certainly knew they’d been in a battle.
Leeds Rhinos: 1 Webb, 2 Donald, 3 Smith, 4 Senior, 5 Hall, 6 McGuire, 7 Burrow, 8 Leuluai, 14 Diskin, 10 Peacock, 11 Jones-Buchanan, 18 Ablet, 13 Sinfield
Subs: 16 Bailey, 17 Kirke, 19 Burgess, 21 Worrall
T: McGuire (14, 37), Hall (34, 35), Donald (45)
G: Sinfield 3/5
D: Sinfield 62
Catalans Dragons: 1 Greenshields, 18 DuPort, 11 Raguin, 15 Phillipe Baille,5 Pelo, 4 Mogg, 6 Bosc, 23 Ryles, 9 McGuire, 10 Guisset, 16 Elima, 17 Gossard, 26 Bird
Subs: 8 Ferriol, 14 Carlaw, 19 Touxegas, 24 Casty
T: DuPort (17, 47, 55), Mogg (73)
G: Bosc 2/4
15 McGuire try, Sinfield goal (1/1) 6-0
17 DuPort try, Bosc miss (0/1) 6-4
34 Hall try 10-4
35 Hall try, Sinfield goal (2/3) 16-4
37 McGuire try, Sinfield goal (3/4) 22-4
42 Donald try 26-4
47 DuPort try 26-8
55 DuPort try, Dosc goal (1/3) 26-14
62 Sinfield DG 27-14
73 Mogg try, Bosc goal (2/4) 27-20
Referee: R Silverwood