Steve McNamara’s Catalans Dragons beat Warrington Wolves at Wembley this afternoon and their 20-14 victory handed them their first piece of major silverware since joining Super League in 2006.
A year on from ensuring their survival in 2017’s Million Pound Game, the Dragons’ slow start to 2018 has been long forgotten as Remi Casty lifted the famous trophy aloft in celebration – all of which came after the French team had a dream start with Lewis Tierney crossing inside two minutes. At the end of their first attacking set, half back Samisoni Langi put a towering kick up towards Stefan Ratchford but, after the Warrington full back knocked on in the air, the Dragons took advantage. On the right edge, Benjamin Julien drew a tackle and offloaded the ball out for Tierney to slide over in the corner.
Their lead was further extended after Sam Moa drew a penalty right in front of the sticks and Australian half back Josh Drinkwater added a penalty goal to the touchline conversion he struck following Tierney’s try. Catalans led 8-0 before the clock had even hit ten minutes and with Warrington still stuck in the starting blocks. Indeed, the Englishmen thought they had hit back through Tom Lineham but the try was chalked off for obstruction earlier in the play. That preceded errors from Tyrone Roberts and Stefan Ratchford with the Wolves in promising positions but Ben Murdoch-Masila was able to get the eight-time cup winners on the board before half-time. After Fouad Yaha spilled the ball under pressure from a high kick, the gargantuan forward was able to pounce and run the ball round to place under the sticks.
That score was on 29 minutes and brought Warrington into the game but the Frenchmen, in the final after their sterling performance against Saints in the semi-final, hit back to restore their eight point advantage. With starting hooker Michael McIlorum off the pitch for a spell on the interchange bench, impressive second rower Benjamin Garcia barged his way over from dummy half, referee Robert Hicks confirming the try after a video check. Drinkwater’s conversion left the score at 14-6 at half-time and the Dragons were certainly good value for it.
Keen to build on their lead and not allow the Wolves back into the match, Catalans started quick once more and left centre Brayden Williame was the man to extend their advantage. After a 40/20 from man of the match Tony Gigot, Garcia, Langi and Drinkwater combined before giving the Frenchman the opportunity to put Williame through a gap. Warrington’s slow start to the game looked like costing them but, as any team should in a final, they came back.
As the game edged towards the hour mark, a no-look kick from the Wire’s Kevin Brown angled in towards the sticks from the left channel and, beaten by a bounce, Drinkwater knocked on. Roberts was there fast to collect the loose ball and offloaded to George King who gave Warrington a chance again. With the score at 20-12 with ten minutes left on the clock, Roberts took the option of two points after Super League’s fourth placed team were awarded a penalty, cutting the margin to six points.
Indeed, Catalans made handling errors aplenty in the last quarter of the match but, such was their defensive solidity, they were able to ensure they weren’t punished for it. Always brutal and strong up the middle, the Dragons seemed confident in their ability to deal with the Wolves out wide and were happy for Warrington to throw the ball to the flanks in their attempts to make headway. The result may well have been different had either of Lineham’s close range slides for the line resulted in a try.
However, the Wolves were unable to add to Roberts’ late penalty and the Dragons wound the clock down after Fouad Yaha had managed to keep the ball in the field of play as Josh Charnley – quiet throughout – tried to force a drop out.
Lewis Tierney, the man who had the first word, went on to have the last as he ran the ball out of play in the direction of the vocal Catalans contingent and, as the hooter sounded, the celebrations began for the Dragons, Bernard Guasch and Steve McNamara. Having masterminded a turnaround not only from their poor 2017 season but also their disappointing start to 2018, the English coach has produced the perfect gameplan to defeat both St Helens and Warrington en route to their first piece of major silverware and, with the foundations now firmly in place, next season could see the Dragons improve further and become a real threat.
Now, though, Catalans have become the first non-English team to lift the famous trophy and, while the attendance was the lowest at Wembley for decades, it comes at a time when expansion is a hot topic in rugby league.Embed from Getty Images