Tom Davies crossed for a first-half hat-trick as Catalans Dragons ended a three-match losing streak by cruising to a 34-6 win over a much-changed Leeds Rhinos side at Headingley.
Only Luke Briscoe and Adam Cuthbertson were included in the Leeds team that beat Hull KR last week as coach Richard Agar elected to save his big names for Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan.
And the fleet-footed form of 23-year-old Davies made the difference as the visitors shrugged off some impressive early resistance from a Leeds team featuring no fewer than five debutants in their starting line-up.
It was a big occasion for Jack Broadbent, Liam Tindall, Sam Walters, Jarrod O’Connor and James Harrison and they responded admirably to the challenge by withstanding strong Catalans’ pressure through the opening 20 minutes.
That pressure, which saw Julian Bousquet held up despite taking the ball over the line, finally told in the 19th minute when Davies side-stepped Bodene Thompson and jinked over in the corner, with James Maloney duly adding the conversion.
Davies squeezed over again seven minutes later after collecting a high pass from Maloney, before Leeds hit back in dramatic fashion when Rhys Evans charged 95 metres to cross the line following an interception.
O’Connor’s first senior points from the conversion dragged the Rhinos back within four points, and they threatened again with a spell of pressure that saw Thompson cross the line only to be penalised for a knock-on.
Sam Tomkins and Israel Folau combined to send Davies over the line for the third time shortly before the interval, but Agar had plenty of his reasons to be happy with his side’s display despite their 10-point deficit.
The 19-year-old Tindall, who stood out among the debutants throughout, almost staged a spectacular intervention early in the second period when he wriggled through a series of Catalans challenges before falling agonisingly short of the line.
Leeds failed to take advantage of Sam Kasiano’s sin-binning and instead Catalans rode the mini-storm to extend their lead when some swift working out wide enabled Fouad Yaha to slide over, before Maloney converted.
More sterling defence from the Rhinos twice held up the visitors on the try-line before Arthur Mourgou barged over to extend the Catalans’ lead, with Maloney’s conversion taking the score to 28-6.
A late lapse in concentration by the Rhinos defence saw Yaha to cross for his second after the hooter, another Maloney conversion rounding off a 34-6 success which was harsh on a young Rhinos side who staked plenty of claims to future involvement.