Archive for the ‘Catalan Dragons’ Category

Leeds Rhinos 27 – 20 Catalan Dragons

October 3, 2009

So the fairytale run of the Dragons came to an end last night, but they didn’t give up without a fight. When Danny McGuire dummied his way over for the first try, it looked like Leeds had calmed down after a nervy start. Then McGuire let the kick-off go out on the full and Les Cats scored straight from the ensuing scrum thanks to Vincent Duport. Leeds somehow came of a first half in which they were being matched shot-for-shot by a resilient Dragons side with an 18 point lead thanks to a purple patch to end all purple patches, which saw two tries to Ryan Hall and an absolute beauty of a team effort finished off by McGuire. When Scott Donald went over at the start of the second half, it looked like the Dragons’ run was going to end with a damp squib, but Greg Bird and Adam Mogg wouldn’t allow it. Not only did they gain some respect back, the set up a nervy end but pulling scores back. When Kevin Sinfield popped over a drop-goal with 25 minutes left, it seemed like an over-cautious shutdown operation by the Rhinos. As it turned out it was probably the most intelligent piece of play all night, because it kept the Dragons that psychologically-diffcult second score away from the Rhinos. 

This was one of those rare games where I’m not sure the better team won. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how the Rhinos pulled away so dramatically just before half-time. Up until that point they appeared to be losing the forward battle. Next thing you know, they’re four scores ahead and the game appears to be over. It’s a tremendous credit to the Dragons that that wasn’t necessarily the case. For the most part they seemed to be bossing it in the forwards, and they certainly never seemed to be outmatched. Duport took his hat-trick nicely, which isn’t bad for a player who was originally a back-rower. Adam Mogg and Greg Bird were superb, and England should hope that Mogg isn’t able to take his place for France in the Four Nations (he might not play as his wife is due to give birth). Les Cats might rue taking off Bird just before half-time, even if he probably needed the rest for his own good. For large portions of the game and particularly the second half, it looked the Dragons were all over Leeds. It was a shame for them that they were 22 points down at that point. 

Give Credit to Leeds though. In that ten minute spell just before and after half-time they were electric. I didn’t agree with the commentators going on about how awesome Danny McGuire was playing (he wasn’t that good, and I consider myself something of a McGuire apologist) but he sure as hell took his first try nicely, and his positioning to run onto Donald’s kick for his second try (very possibly try of the season, and certainly try of the playoffs so far) was also top-notch. He was in the right place at the right time, something that applied to all the Rhinos’ players in that spell. Jamie Peacock was a workhorse for his stay on the pitch, and Luke Burgess’ arrival on the pitch coincided with the Leeds explosion as he introduced a 2nd phase play that had been missing from the Rhinos at that point. The Rhinos rode their luck a bit, but they still came out of the game as worthy victors.

So the Dragons get a winter of rest in the south of France, whilst the Rhinos’ march towards an unprecedented third Grand Final victory continues. Leeds probably picked the Dragons with their ClubCall pick assuming that St Helens and Wigan would beat the crap out of each other, but the Rhinos have just had to endure a game of extreme physical intensity and will be glad that they’ve got an extra rest day. They conceded some very soft tries from scrums and that will have to be worked on for next week, but at the very least they won’t have the excuse of a soft preparation should anything go wrong. In fact, this game was probably the exact sort of warm-up the Rhinos needed; a reminder that they can’t just walk over every team.


Playoff Preview: Leeds Rhinos vs Catalan Dragons

October 2, 2009


Previous Meetings: Leeds won two of the three previous meetings this season, both by considerable margins. The Dragons did, however, win the last meeting between the two. Les Cats have never won at Headingley.

Form: Both are red hot right now. Leeds have been crushing opposition for about two months now whilst the Dragons have somehow won three away games in a row (all fairly convincingly). 

Personnel Concerns: Both sides are considering recalling previously missing forwards in Luke Burgess and Jamal Fakir. In Fakir’s case this would be a huge gamble as he has missed most of the season.

Thoughts: The fisr ever ClubCall match sees a meeting between two of the in-form teams in the competition. Leeds ended up cruising to a League Leader’s Shield and walked over Hull KR, although it’s hard to tell how much of that was KR failing due to tiredness. The Dragons are winning away from home regularly in these playoffs and their pack has been immense. Olivier Elima (declared French captain this week) is probably the form forward in the competition right now.

The main problem for the Dragons is that they’ve won by bashing the opposition packs out of the game. I don’t see this happening to Leeds. They have been playing some exciting stuff in the last few weeks but they’ve been allowed to. The main thing in the Dragons’ favour is that Leeds might be soft from a week off. Alternatively, they might be nicely rested. 

In Conclusion… I find it hard to pick against the Dragons, particularly after their domination over the last few weeks, but I find it even harder to pick against the Rhinos who have been looking more and more like the champions-elect for the last few months, and they won’t be bullied in the same way the Dragons’ other opposition have been recently. I expect it’ll at least start off close before the Rhinos pull away later on.

Huddersfield Giants 6 – 16 Catalan Dragons

September 26, 2009


That’s the only word to describe that game, especially if you’re a Giants fan. The atmosphere was flatter than Paris Hilton and the game did litle to change that. Although the Dragons really didn’t help the game’s flow with an ill-disciplined opening, the majority of the game should fall with the Giants who resorted to the most tedious, one dimensional gameplan which quite frankly deserved to get beaten. A lot of the Giants’ attacking play this year has revolved around the inside ball, particularly freeing up Brett Hodgson. Last night, the inside ball kept leading players into running into a red and gold wall. The Dragons completely dominated the arm-wrestle element of the game, and the Giants didn’t look like scoring at all.

It was a game populated with stupid plays. The Giants refused to deviate from the inside ball, and it never seemed to occur to the Giants to try and find a weak spot out wide (although some credit for this must go to the Dragons, because their defensive pattern was spot-on). when they actually got close to the Dragons’ line, they often tried a powerplay instead of just kicking into the corner. Even the little bit of magic that Luke Robinson provided for their try wasn’t enough to get them going. The Dragons weren’t exactly exemplary either, what with their ill-discipline (Jean-Phillipe Baile’s grab on Brett Hodgson to deny Clint Greenshields his second try deserves particular ire) and their fiery temperaments, but at least they tried to display some flair. The League Gods obviously approved, because once the Dragons hit the lead for the second time it became clear that the Giants had no way back into the game. 

Anyway, it all led to Huddersfield’s season ending with a whimper. They started off as The Next Big Club, but now serious questions have to be asked. They only won two of their final six games and three of those defeats (the Cup final, both playoff games) were their biggest games of the season. The way their attack suddenly turned anemic in the playoffs will be a major concern as well (to only concede 31 points in two games and still lose both games is a difficult one to understand). As for the Dragons, that’s three big away wins in a row and now they’re 80 minutes from the Grand Final. Not bad for a side who seemed hopelessly underperforming a few months ago. It will be very interesting to see if Leeds do the logical thing and pick them with the Club Call, because it doesn’t necessarily seem like a good idea now, does it?

Playoff Preview: Huddersfield Giants vs Catalan Dragons

September 25, 2009


Previous Meetings: Huddersfield won both games convincingly this year, including a 30-8 season-opener that told us all to expect different things from both these sides this season. Their records against each other in Super League are split fairly evenly, although Huddersfield have big advantage at home (Les Cats have only won once at the Galpharm Stadium). 

Form: Huddersfield have lost three of their last five, although two of those were close-fought games at St Helens. The Dragons appeared to be stumbling to the finish line, but have won fairly convincingly in their last two games to indicate that they’re a force to be reckoned with again. 

Personnel Concerns: None for the Giants, now Scott Moore and Keith Mason have served their internal bans for misconduct. The Dragons hope to have Jamal Fakir back from injury.

Thoughts: The Giants seemed to lack any attacking threat against Saints last weekend, although it did sort of seem like one of those games, and after the opening twenty minutes they stood up and did their fair share of work defensively. They won’t want a repeat of that opening though, because the Dragons are not the sort of side who give up large leads.

The Dragons look to have regained some attacking mojo in the last few weeks, and they’ll need it because the Giants are a very strong defensive team. Both Dimitri Pelo and Vincent Duport looked lively in the Wakefield game and you suspect that the Dragons might need to take it to the Giants out wide. Both these sides have monster packs who could neutralize each other, but if one side gets on top in the forwards don’t doubt for a second that they’ll try to capitialize on the space out wide. 

What will really help the Giants this week will be having Scott Moore back. They were lacking direction in attack at St Helens and it is very important that he adds playmaking support from dummy-half to take some pressure off Luke Robinson and Liam Fulton. Thomas Bosc has been looking sharp of late and the Giants will need to shut him down. 

In Conclusion... If any team looks prepared to pull off an upset, it’s Les Cats. I still think Huddersfield will win, but I suspect it will be a very close game. If the Giants can keep the Dragons under wraps then that will go a long way to winning them the game. If they let them score frequently though, it will be interesting to see if a misfiring Giants attack can keep up.

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 16 – 25 Catalan Dragons

September 20, 2009

At two points during the second half last night, I experienced two very different emotions. About ten minutes into the second half, I felt a twinge of disappointment at how this game looked like was about to turn into a blowout. Catalan Dragons led 22-2 and Wakefield had been awful. Fifteen minutes later, I had a sudden adrenaline rush, and thought that Wakefield might acutally be able to pull this one out of the bag, after tries to Luke George (twice) and Ryan Atkins had given Wakefield hope and crucial momentum heading into the final moments. 

Alas, it wasn’t to be, but at least Wakefield managed to gain some pride back. For the majority of the game however they looked flat, lifeless, and frankly overawed by the stakes. They also looked rudderless and clearly missed the stabilizing influence of Danny Brough. Luckily for them Luke George looks like he’s going to be a stud, as he scored two tries (including one fabulous solo effort around Clint Greenshields) and showed awareness to set up another for Ryan Atkins when it looked like he might get selfish. George’s performance added a spark hitherto lacking by the Wildcats and almost brought them back into the game. 

In the end though, Wakefield had just dug themselves into too big a hole and Catalans were able to capitalize. Where the wildcats looked listless, the Dragons looked fiery and passionate, and their forward domination led to a killer performance by the backs. That’s two impressive away performances in a row for Les Cats now, and I think teams will be wary of playing this newly-confident side in knock-out football from here on in.

Playoff Preview: Wakefield Trinity Wildcats vs Catalan Dragons

September 19, 2009


Previous Meetings: Wakefield won both games this year, including a 34-20 game in Perpignan two weeks ago. The rest of their Super League history is split fairly evenly.

Form: Wakefield have won five matches in a row and looked pretty dominant in their game against Hull KR last week. Catalans’ form of late has been patchy but they did somehow win at St Helens last week to keep their place in the top 8.

Concerns: A minor concern over Danny Brough for Wakey, who picked up a hip injury last week. 

Thoughts: Wakefield have really come into their own of late and are proving very adept at dealing with mediocrity. This Catalans side finished eighth for a reason, namely their inconsistency which has seen them lose more games than they’ve won. COnsidering that Wakefield have already beaten them twice this season, you would have to think that the Dragons are really going to have to pull out all the stops to win this one.

This game will probably be won in the forwards (as usual). Both sides have impressive half pairings, but if one side can ominate up front then it’s going to take the other side out of their game. Wakefield have been very solid defensively of late and the Dragons will probably have to hope they can find a cutting edge out wide. If Brough doesn’t play though, that might be the best chance the Dragons have…

In Conclusion… I would be very surprised if we saw the first eighth-placed team win the Grand Final, because I’d be fairly surprised if we saw them get out of the first round. Wakefield have been in far too much of a groove lately and I expect them to deal with Les Catalans. It may end up being a close game, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some fireworks from the forwards, but I can’t see Wakefield giving up at this stage of a difficult year.

Catalan Dragons 16 – 36 Leeds

May 4, 2009

The proverbial game of two halfs here, as Leeds managed to look a lot like both the team that won the competition last season and also the team that has clearly been struggling over the past few months. Both sides will take some positives out of the game and both teams looked good in patches, but both teams will be worried by the inconsistency that they displayed in the game. 

In the first half, Leeds were clinical and destructive. They took their chances well and looked to have regained the cutting edge that had been sorely missing in the previous month. When Brent Webb and Ryan Hall finished off long range efforts in quick succession (Hall’s was straight off the restart) it looked like the Rhinos of old were back. Hall had a very impressive first half, as did the Rhonos pack which set the tone of dominance. The Dragons simply looked shell-shocked. 

The second half was a lot more rugged, and generally captivated less interest in the spectator. Catalan Dragons managed to improve their game, and suddenly a 30 point deficit became a 20 point deficit, with tries early in the second half to Kane Bentley and Olivier Elima. Had they managed to score another not long after that the game might have become interesting again, with Leeds looking pretty flat and the Dragons suddenly playing with a sense of urgency. Unfortunately they couldn’t do it, and Scott Donald’s interception killed off a game that really had died a good while before. Although Casey McGuire was able to confirm the Dragons’ position of ascendancy in the second half with a late score, it was far too little far too late.

Personally, this struck as a game in which neither side will have come out of it feeling particularly good. The Dragons were absolutely shocking in the first half, and although they should be pleased with the signs of improvement in the second half, they should feel frustrated that their first half performance essentially rendered the good work they did later on null and void. As for Leeds, the looked like they were back to their lethal best in the first half, and yet somehow managed to lose that killer edge again in the second half.

Dragons capture a Bird

March 4, 2009

After being denied a visa to come to the UK, Greg Bird has obviously found French immigration policy more to his liking with the news today that he has signed for the Catalan Dragons. I must admit I find this a little odd for quite a few reasons:

  1. Shouldn’t Brid sort out his legal issues before playing again? I know the guy’s got a right to earn a wage and is innocent until proven otherwise, but surely his upcoming court visit is going to be a distraction? It’s not that long until he goes to court, so couldn’t they hold off for a few more weeks?
  2. How do Bradford feel about this? I can only assume they terminated Bird’s contract when he was denied a visa, becuase otherwise he wouldn’t be able to sign for the Dragons. Even so, they must be aggrived that a player they signed and couldn’t use has now found himself another team.
  3. The idea that Bird might be only allowed to play in home games for the Dragons (he may not be allowed into the UK) is absurd (and quite funny). It makes you wonder about the terms of his contract if he can only play in half the available games.

Bird should be making his debut this weekend against Castleford, and will be replacing Sebastian Raguin (out injured for the rest of the season) in the Dragons’ squad. This indicates that he will be playing in the forwards for Catalan, which makes sense as they’re pretty well covered at stand-off by Thomas Bosc right now. At least we’ll get an indication of how Bird fares in Super League after all, and he should be a boon for the Dragons in the time he’s going to spend with them.

Catalan Dragons: coping with the fire of raised expectations

February 1, 2009


So after three years of having a French presence in Super League, I think it’s fair to say that the Catalan experiment has been a success. Numerous and passionate crowds, a decent stadium, the development of French talent, and a trip to both the Challenge Cup final and the playoffs. Now the Dragons have to deal with something else entirely: raised expectations.

Having spent their first two seasons around the bottom of the Super League table, Catalan emerged as a force to be reckoned with last season as they swept their way to third place in the table and to a crushing first round playoff win over Warrington. This made it all the more surprising when they crashed their way out of the playoffs with a resounding defeat by Wigan, thus ending their hopes of a first Grand Final. The Dragons were obviously not used to such expectations, and it kind of showed. Added to that an abysmal World Cup campaign that affected much of the Dragons’ squad, and you have a slight cloud of uncertainty hanging over Catalonia as the season begins.

With this in mind, it’s good to see such a positive looking recruitment campaign by the Dragons as they appear to have gone for quality over quantity. Jason Ryles is a star of a prop, and even if he hasn’t been at his best over the last few seasons he should still add some much needed steel to the Dragons’ pack. Steve Bell is a proven player at NRL and Origin level, and in another era would probably have a Test cap by now. Add to that an emerging talent from the French Elite League in Frederic Vaccari and former Brisbane Bronco halfback Shane Perry, and you have a nifty set of new players coming in.

With all this in mind, you would have to guess that the Dragons’ aim this season should be at minimum entry into the playoffs. I would guess that they will be targeting a home playoff in the first round by finishing in the top four, and given the improvements they have made in the last few seasons a Grand Final appearance isn’t a completely absurd idea. The Dragons have proved themselves worthy of Super League; now they have to prove themselves to be members of its elite, and the best way to do that would be by winning a trophy this year.