Rapid revival from Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos 46 Catalans Dragons 10

Jonathan Doidge at Headingley Carnegie

When you have just succumbed to a record Super League defeat, you probably don’t much care how your next two points are won so long as they come quickly. This, an eventual runaway success for Leeds, was achieved the hard way for the most part, before a welcome flourish. They deserved this and should rightly gain in confidence from it.

A surfeit of first half penalties stymied many attempts to fashion opportunities and rendered the contest impotent in terms of momentum.
Led forward by the industrious Matt Parcell, whose try took the game away from the Dragons just as they were threatening to get right back in it before the break, the Rhinos played with purpose.

Most of the good stuff that the home side managed to string together in between the sound of the whistle was, in part, down to Parcell, while Adam Cuthbertson was also very effective, bagging a couple of well-earned tries.

There was a much greater feeling of structure about the team, both in attack and defence. Others of significant influence were Joel Moon and Jimmy Keinhorst, while Danny McGuire grabbed his first try in competitive action since the 2015 Grand Final.

Jordan Baldwinson got a first start for the home side, while Carl Ablett was back from suspension and the team were better for it. Rob Burrow’s return from illness was not too taxing, the veteran getting the final 25 minutes and having the desired impact, both creating and scoring.

Catalans tried going route one, hitting the home side down the middle and appearing reluctant to use much in the way of width. Their kicking game was probably better than the Rhinos’, with Walsh causing more problems with what went aerial from his boot than anything that Leeds could muster.

However, otherwise there was little imagination from the Dragons’ attack, especially after the loss of Greg Bird, who was hit late by Singleton in the first-half and had to have seven stiches in his head as a result, so missing the entire second half. Jodie Broughton also sustained a bicep injury.

“I thought they were really good. It thought we handled a real difficult night extremely well,” said Rhinos coach Brian McDermott of his charges.

“We were up against it weren’t we. Down to 11 men at one stage and we showed real commitment to each other.”

On the subject of the officiating, the coach chose his words carefully. “I’m caught between saying something which I very tame and then just saying that there’s not much point. If you were to look at the penalties I would say that every one of them was a penalty. I don’t disagree. But it’s not the version of rugby league we’ve been playing for four rounds and that’s all I’d say.”

“Regardless of last week it’s just good. I’ve been our biggest critic of our offense so far and some of that has started to click, so we don’t go by the usual mundain repetitive attack that I think you see in some teams in Super League.
“I thought the pack were great,” he added. “Jimmy Keinhorst was outstanding again. Joel Moon played in the pivots and was very effective. Danny McGuire looked in control of everything and that’s great to see.

“I thought Adam Cuthbertson was the difference again. He’s getting back to his best. He’s one of those blokes that when you take him out of our team we’re a lesser version in attack of what we’d like to do and put him in it and he’s a big part of what we do.

“This tonight doesn’t write off last week. It still hurts. We are still embarrassed by it. I’ve got the best job in the game and part of that best job in the game is dealing with the losses. When we lose everybody cheers and when we win it’s oh Leeds should win. It throws up some real challenges and tonight was a good night but we’ve got to knock about another 10 versions of tonight together over the next few weeks.”

Catalans counterpart Laurent Frayssinous was not happy with his team’s approach to the contest.
“(I am) Disappointed with the result and disappointed with the attitude we brought tonight,” he said. “Leeds wanted it more than us in every department. There were some signs in the first half defensively that we were not ready for a big battle.

“We conceded 40 point in three games and tonight we conceded more points than we did in three games so that’s disappointing. Offensively in the first half we won the ruck. When we carried the ball strong we had a bit of support and fight on the ground but defensively we were not on our game.”

Leeds led 14-4 at the break, Cuthbertson taking a parcel offload five metres out to set the scoring in motion, with Sutcliffe’s conversion and a further penalty, awarded against the Dragons for dissent, giving them an eight point lead.

Amid all of that, Singleton was put on report for flying in late on Bird, while shortly after Sutcliffe’s penalty goal, Golding did well to hold Justin Horo, who had picked up the ricochet when Walsh’s bomb came back off the posts and had looked like scoring.

The penalty frenzy continued apace, with Cuthbertson taking a 10-minute sabbatical for a professional foul, and after a team warning against Leeds, Keinhorst also had an enforced breather for holding down.

The pair’s time off the field overlapped by about a minute, giving Catalans time to ship play left on the back of the penalty and score through Brayden Wiliame.

Back to 12 men, Parcell did well to hold off three men on the way to scoring his try, after exchanging passes with Cuthbertson, and when Keinhorst threw and dummy and hit the gas to score six minutes after the break, it looked as though that was probably that.

However, Richard Myler’s suspect-looking pass was carried over for a try by Julian Bousquet which gave the Frenchmen hope, with Walsh’s conversion making it 20-10. That was where the fun ended for Frayssinous’ men, however, as Leeds came home in a style that had appeared unthinkable eight days earlier.

Keinhorst intercepted Walsh’s pass to scatter the defence, Burrow sending Cuthbertson over for a second try on the next play. Then the diminutive number seven zipped through just inside the Dragons’ half and scorched away to score under the posts.

Keinhorst was at it again just two minutes later, making a break down the left before drawing full back Bosc and sending McGuire over. Sutcliffe then got on the end of a Burrow grubber to complete the scoring, adding a total of nine goals from as many attempts.

Leeds
1 Ashton Golding 8
2 Tom Briscoe 7
3 Kallum Watkins 7
4 Joel Moon 8
5 Ryan Hall 7
6 Danny McGuire (C) 7
14 Liam Sutcliffe 7
10 Adam Cuthbertson 9
9 Matt Parcell 8
16 Brad Singleton 7
18 Jimmy Keinhorst 8
12 Carl Ablett 7
24 Jordan Baldwinson 7

Subs:
21 Josh Walters 6
7 Rob Burrow 8
20 Anthony Mullally 6
15 Brett Delaney 6

Tries: Cuthbertson (8, 58), Parcell (36), Keinhorst (46), Burrow (65), McGuire (67), Sutcliffe (77)
Goals: Sutcliffe 9/9

Catalans Dragons

16 Thomas Bosc 6
2 Jodie Broughton 5
18 Vincent Duport 6
4 Brayden Wiliame 6
21 Ian Thornley 6
6 Luke Walsh 7
7 Richard Myler 6
20 Luke Burgess 6
9 Paul Aiton 7
10 Remi Casty (C) 6
15 Ben Garcia 6
12 Justin Horo 6
13 Greg Bird 5

Subs (all used)
11 Louis Anderson 6
14 Julian Bousquet 7
17 Jason Baitieri 7
23 Alrix Da Costa 6

Tries: Wiliame (30), Bousquet (50)
Goals: Walsh 1/2

Attendance: 13,208
Referee: James Child
HT: 14 – 4
Penalties: 9-9
Man of the Match: Adam Cuthbertson (nearing his best again and two tries to boot)
Weather: Mild, dry
Match rating: 3/5

“Sometimes you’ve got to be kicked in the nuts”: McDermott

Leeds coach Brian McDermott says that his team can win the Grand Final this year, despite being “kicked in the nuts” with a record Super League defeat for the club at Castleford in Round Three.

The Rhinos were quick to turn things around after their 66-10 loss at their arch local rivals, running in seven tries against Catalans to emerge 46-10 winners on Friday night.

“I believe we can win the Grand Final and I believed it last week,” said McDermott, after his team put up what was unquestionably their best performance so far this season.

“I was going to make a big statement last week and Phil (Daly) told me to wind my neck in. Experience tells you that sometimes you’ve got to be kicked in the nuts to find out the best of you and last week we got a certain amount of bruising around our groin area!”

“This tonight doesn’t write off last week. It still hurts. We are still embarrassed by it. I’ve got the best job in the game and part of that best job in the game is dealing with the losses.

“When we lose everybody cheers and when we win it’s oh Leeds should win. It throws up some real challenges and tonight was a good night but we’ve got to knock about another 10 versions of tonight together over the next few weeks.”

Meanwhile, there was relief for Super League’s all-time record tryscorer Danny McGuire. The Leeds skipper, whose 2016 season was torn apart by injury, scored his first competitive try since the 2015 Grand Final and said “It’s a bit of a relief. It’s good to get over the whitewash and I was really pleased with the collective effort from the boys.”

Having been one of many Rhinos to receive some criticism a week earlier, McGuire admits that getting back to proper match sharpness has taken a bit of time, though he feels that he has turned a corner. “I am starting to feel good and get my confidence back. It doesn’t matter how many games you have played it takes a while to find your feet after you’ve been out for a while.

“Even though we scored over 40 points I think it was our defence that won it tonight. We weren’t good enough last week but if you don’t turn up defensively against Catalan and meet them head on you get steamrolled and our middle boys did really well tonight.”

Cheltenham Festival preview night

Haydock Park stages its annual Cheltenham Festival preview night this evening, in association with the Northern Racing Club.

The event is kindly sponsored by bookmakers Star Sports and Jonathan will host the evening, with top jockey Brian Hughes on the panel alongside trainer and former Scottish National-winning pilot Micky Hammond, plus Andy Gibson of Attheraces and the Cheltenham Trail website and Kyle Drummond, who will represent the sponsors.

The SOLD OUT signs have gone up, although there are a few places allocated for walk-ups on the night, so if you haven’t got a ticket you may still be able to join in the fun!

The tapes are up at 7.30pm. See you there…

Holy is well capable of being National hero

2016 Crabbie’s Grand National preview

Like an old best friend, this race is one that we look forward to seeing time after time and this is the classiest ever renewal. Not even 2014 winner Pineau De Re can get a run, so high is the base rating (145), and among its rank are Many Clouds, successful 12 months ago, together with other Hennessy winners, King George VI and Betfair Chase winners, Festival scorers, former favourites for this event and this year’s handicap ‘good things’.

The term lottery has been associated with the contest since that horse won what has traditionally been accepted as the race’s first running in 1839. However, whereas for much of its history that has been more about contest between horse, rider and obstacles levelling the playing field, now with such an abundance of quality lining-up, there is barely a runner – if there is one at all – that you can confidently strike a line through on the card, making it a lottery of a very different kind.

Many Clouds is a great starting point for us. Last year’s winner did not have nearly as hard-a-race as many have in claiming the prize and he has been able to do what no other horse since Bindaree had managed, namely to win another race after his National. That augurs well for his chance of a repeat, in terms of his wellbeing, while his form coming into this is also very solid. His win at Kelso last time suggested that he retains all of his ability and the handicapper has given him an outstanding chance of being the first back-to-back winner since the great Red Rum. It is difficult to see him being out of the first four given a trouble-free round, but then the margins are so tight that he could run a blinder to finish ninth.

When you consider that Many Clouds has to give 2lbs to a dual King George VI Chase winner in Silviniaco Conti then his task looks a little tougher. The Paul Nicholls-trained 10-year-old will relish conditions and the flat track. While we know that he stays at least three miles in the classiest of contests, he still has to prove that he gets beyond that distance. The only real blot on his record has been his visits to Cheltenham, but he won’t have those undulations to deal with here. Dropped back in trip last time and with headgear on, he was still good enough to land a Grade 1 at Ascot, so pace will not be an issue and if he proves up to the task then he will be one of the more obvious winners.

Stablemate Wonderful Charm carries only 5lb less, does not look nearly as classy and also has stamina doubts to overcome. First Lieutenant was this scribe’s selection 12 months ago. This time around he carries 5lb more and, although in decent form, he made mistakes that day and got behind, suggesting that a triumphant return is unlikely.

Ballynagour has been a quality performer on his day, running to within four lengths of Cue Card at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase, but then subsequently unable to build on that promise. He wouldn’t have been ideally suited by 2m 5f at Cheltenham last time and with conditions more to his liking here, he is well worth a try over this extreme distance.

O’Faolins Boy ran a nice race in the Gold Cup and will appreciate this slightly slower ground, while The Druids Nephew will be in the minds of many after travelling like a potential winner until falling five out last year. History has shown that horses don’t have to have won during the season of their Aintree success and he has again been laid out for this and looks fresh and ready.

Similarly, The Last Samuri, who finished 10 lengths clear of The Druids Nephew at Doncaster last month, is handled by former-winning trainer Kim Bailey and really does give the impression that this marathon will suit. The give will also be to his liking, but if you are trying to pick holes in his claim then at eight-years-old he is younger than the norm, while he has only had eight starts over fences where there has been an average of less than eight runners, so he has plenty to prove.

Holywell is a very interesting contender for 2010 winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill. Fourth in the Gold Cup last year and third in the Betfred Bowl, connections appear to have accepted that he was never going to be the champion staying chaser and this season his campaign looks to have been geared towards big spring handicap prizes. Of course there is none greater than this and although not the biggest of individuals, he jumps really well, acts well on good to soft ground, and he looks to have a better chance than many from a good mark of 153, the same pitch from which he found only one too good in a hot Festival handicap last time.

Shutthefrontdoor ran a cracker when sent off 6/1 favourite for the 2015 renewal but, while he stayed four miles, the run-in found him out. From 1lb lower there is no reason why he can’t be thereabouts once again but he does not line-up in as good form as he did last year. Soll burst a blood vessel when finishing ninth last year after leading about a mile from home. He is four times the price this year, but he is nigh-on a stone higher in the weights too, which will probably prove to be his undoing.

Boston Bob has long been contesting top class races and some early jumping problems appear to have been put behind him. With Ruby Walsh up anything is possible, though he will also be taking a trip into the unknown over this far. The ground won’t be a problem. The very lightly-raced Morning Assembly makes some each-way appeal given that conditions are to suit, he jumps well and the form of his Punchestown run with Don Cossack from a couple of seasons ago now reads very well. Nonetheless, he has 10 lengths to find with Holywell on Cheltenham running and again races from a mark 3lb lower than that rival.

Unioniste is 9lb lower than when a 16/1 fifth fence faller last year. Recently beaten 10 lengths by Many Clouds in their Kelso prep race, Paul Nicholls’ runner now receives a 10lb pull and a clear round would make him very interesting, although there is a slight concern that he does not seem to possess the pace that is needed to win this race these days. He and Le Reve are weighted to be closely matched on the latter’s Sandown win in February.

Gallant Oscar has got experience on his side and some very good soft ground form to his name, although his jumping does not always hold up under pressure and there will be plenty of that here. With only four chases to his name Onenightinvienna would have to be something special to land this, while Kruzhlinin has a bit to find with both Holywell and Morning Assembly on Festival form, although he would be a hugely popular winner with Richard Johnson up.

There have been worse 66/1 shots than Ballycasey, who is one of a quartet saddled by Willie Mullins. He was just 25/1 when being brought down early on last year and looks a relatively generous price given that he showed that he is still in good heart over a trip arguably too short at Cheltenham last time. Hadrian’s Approach is a similarly interesting outsider, racing from just 1lb higher than when landing the 3m 5f bet 365 Gold Cup at Sandown almost two years ago. He has clearly not been easy to train since then, having had only three runs. The latest of those, however, was an encouraging enough return from an absence of over a year when seventh in the Betbright Chase at Kempton. Good to soft ground would be ideal for him and he represents the ultimate trainer in terms of returning good horses to former glories in Nicky Henderson.

Vieux Lion Rouge ran in the four-miler at Cheltenham, where his stamina seemed to come up just short and Pendra is more interesting. Strictly speaking he has a few pounds to find with The Druid’s Nephew on last year’s form. In his favour, he has been very lightly campaigned but proved good enough to win a decent Ascot prize in the autumn and there is sufficient stamina on both sides of his pedigree to suggest that he might get this trip.

Last year’s runner-up Saint Are has to be shortlist material given that he has a 2lb pull for 1¾ lengths with Many Clouds. He is twice the price of Oliver Sherwood’s runner and proved his wellbeing with a Doncaster veterans’ chase win last time which should have him spot on, while the yard is also firing in the winners. The Romford Pele has not yet returned to the form he showed in 2014, but he put up a decent effort to be a 14-length third to Thistlecrack over hurdles at Cheltenham in January and stayed on pretty well over three miles in the Coral Cup last time to be beaten just over four lengths. He has not always been the most fluent of fencers, but from a very competitive mark he could be one of those who enjoys himself over these obstacles and he will be plugging on when others have cried enough.

It would be a truly magnificent feat for Many Clouds to win the race again and this fan will cheer him to the rafters if that is the case, but having been convinced that Comply Or Die would do the same a few years ago, history suggests that he will be chasing home at least one other horse. Holywell looks to have very strong claims, Saint Are is unlikely to be far away again, while Silviniaco Conti has an outstanding chance at the weights. If there is to be a longer-priced upset then it could come from Ballycasey, Hadrian’s Approach or The Romford Pele.

Verdict

1 Holywell
2 Many Clouds
3 Saint Are
4 Silviniaco Conti
5 Ballycasey
6 The Romford Pele