Rhinos beware - Dragons can breathe fire
Leeds Rhinos are 1/7 favourites to beat the Catalans Dragons at Headingley over 80 minutes in Friday's Super League play-off and continue their quest towards a third successive Grand Final victory.
The 4/6 about Leeds to lift the trophy seem like more than sensible odds and realistically, at full strength minus the long-term lay-off of Danny Buderus, this "semi-final" is merely a warm-up game for the Champions.
The fourteen point start handed to the Dragons on the main handicap is fair, it's what I called the other day and, each at 5/1, Leeds to win by 11-15 points or 16-20 looked the bet. But then things started to change my mind.
It would be great to be the person who, on Friday night, could say that they knew that the 4/1 for Catalans to win in 80 minutes was value but you cannot deny the strength of Leeds, especially in front of the Headingley South Stand. Instead here are four reasons the French will win, to the one reason Leeds will.
Imagine the rage, the insult felt by the players as they were picked by Leeds to be the team they expect to be able to beat on their way to the Grand Final. There is a combination of some exceptionally proud Frenchmen and gloryboy Aussies in those Dragons and they will be out to prove them wrong. It's now or never, do or die. They're a good enough team to beat Leeds, especially if they keep play up the middle of the park, and ask any Wigan fan what they are capable of when written off in a semi-final situation.
They've shown they can beat Leeds this season already: a cracking 32-30 thriller in at the Stade Gilbert Brutus (definitely the best named stadium in Super League - don't know why). OK, so they've lost twice too - by a total of 48 points - but one was at Murrayfield Madness and the other way back in March when the Dragons were suffering a very erratic start to the season. They're looking to extend a fantastic three-game winning streak, all away from home and including St Helens and the stubborn Huddersfield Giants.
Il y a le talent. There's some real class in the Catalans Dragons and they all appear to be firing at at the right time. Dimitri Pelo (16/1 to score the first try) has scored four tries in the last three games and six in his last four play-off appearances. Greg Bird is in flying form [sorry] and genuinely has his team playing round him. There's a lot of experience and strength in the forwards (where they will have to win the game) in the likes of Gerome Guisset and if Clint Greenshields stamps [sorry, again] his authority at the back, preventing those dangerous Leeds breaks, then we could see the French at Old Trafford.
Terry O'Connor says so in the William Hill Super League podcast which you can listen to here.
Why will Leeds win? Reason one: they're Leeds. That's not a good enough reason in the Super League these days.
Regardless of the result this will not be the predictable game many people are expecting. All the more reason to bet In-Play on our range of markets which will be available throughout the game and right up to the 80th minute.