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Sport Leeds Rhinos head to Catalans Dragons searching for the key trait that's eluded them

19:50  30 july  2022
19:50  30 july  2022 Source:   leeds-live.co.uk

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Leeds Rhinos head to the south of France again this weekend to face title-chasing Catalans Dragons. Rohan Smith’s men are aiming to maintain their recent renaissance which has seen them win three of their past four games.

The run has propelled Leeds into contention for the Super League play-offs as the race for a top-six finish enters its finale. Here, Leeds Live assesses the key issues facing the Rhinos as they bid to topple Steve McNamara’s men on their own turf.

Rhinos must keep winning to keep top-six hopes alive

Rohan Smith has presided over an upturn at Headingley since his arrival in May. Five wins from nine games under his watch is proof enough. Yet if Leeds are to end a turbulent season in the play-off places, then they simply must keep winning.

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There is such congestion in the middle of the table that, even after their recent impressive run, the Rhinos remain outside of the top six. That says much for their dismal start to the season, but beating Catalans in Perpignan would confirm Leeds as serious play-off contenders.

Ironing out inconsistency perhaps Smith’s biggest challenge. It would be unfair to say Leeds have flitted from the sublime to the ridiculous since Smith arrived – but it wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark. They thrashed Warrington away in smith’s third game in charge, winning 40-4, but lost disappointingly at Huddersfield in their next outing.

A fortnight ago, they fell to defeat at lowly Toulouse, albeit with a weakened team, and then battered the mighty Wigan Warriors five days later. Leeds supporters would surely be happy with a scruffy win in Perpignan this weekend, if it means that the Rhinos’ Smith-inspired bandwagon keeps on rolling. The Rhinos demonstrated their potential in dismantling Wigan – now they must back it up against Catalans.

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Where will Zak Hardaker be playing next season?

Say what you like about the enigmatic Yorkshireman, and many have throughout his career, but you cannot deny Hardaker’s talent. Since coming ‘home’ to Headingley midway through this season, the former Castleford and Wigan man has shown signs of his best form.

He looks the part for Leeds at full-back and it would be a big call not to keep him on board next season, given his versatility. And yet this week Hardaker admitted his future beyond this year remains uncertain. For the player himself, proving his class against his old rival Sam Tomkins could be a step closer towards securing a contract extension at Leeds.

A chance for Aidan Sezer to shine

It has hardly been a dream start to life at Leeds this season for either Sezer or fellow half-back Blake Austin. In both players’ absence, the Rhinos served up their best performance of the season last week as Wigan were beaten 42-12 at Headingley.

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Cameron Smith filled in at half-back alongside Richie Myler and both men enjoyed outstanding games. Yet the feeling persists that, if Sezer and Austin can finally click, then Leeds could be a force to be reckoned with.

Austin remains absent this weekend with a leg injury, but Sezer is set to feature after recovering from a hand problem. The former Huddersfield man will hope to shine in the south of France, almost certainly alongside Myler.

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